Physical Training Sept 2008
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Hamster Clan goes to Japan

copyright © 2008  Patrick Suen, all rights reserved


On May 21, the last day of the 2007 SDK Spring Iaido Seminar, a small group of adventurous low ranking JCCC (Japanese Canadian Cultural Center in Toronto, Canada) students decided to make a trip to Asia. With approval from Hatakenaka Atsumi sensei (Nanadan, Kyoshi) and Tsubaki Fumio sensei (Nanadan, Kyoshi) we began to formulate an itinerary that would allow us to train in Japan.
In the next several months, ideas were raised, argued and changed. Our starting group of 10 was slowly whittled down to 6 and the date was finally settled upon: November 14th, 2007.

Due to work and/or family commitments, we did not travel together for the initial part of our trip.
Nov 14: Kevin Adams, Kevin Lee, Garfield Li, Michael Suen and Patrick Suen (all 1st dan at the time) met up in Ohara, Japan.
Nov 19: Hanna Ikeda (2nd kyu at the time) joined us in Osaka, Japan

The boys arrived in Ohara on Wednesday evening (Nov 15) quite tired from traveling by plane and Shinkansen. Trevor Jones sensei was extremely gracious and hospitable, setting us up for lodging at the Musashi Dojo and providing sustenance that would last for our two night stay.

Training began first thing in the morning!!.....well that was the original plan. *wink* Ohara was experiencing a minor cold spell and it took a while for us to warm up. At around 10am, we began the class. This first session would focus primarily on seitei techniques. We demo'd the whole set to give sensei an idea of our Iai, then got specific advice for each technique. As all of us train together in Toronto, we also tended to have the same bad habits. Common pointers heard that morning included "Relax!" and "Slow Down!"

Simple and to the point.


We stopped at 12:30 for lunch, and toured around Ohara for the rest of the afternoon.

  That evening, we had the honour of visiting Haruna Matsuo sensei's wife and pay our respects at his grave and shrine. Cramming into Jones Sensei's car, we drove up and received a warm welcome from a lovely, energetic old woman. Wandering about 100 meters from the house in darkness, with only a couple of flashlights to guide our way, we each reflected upon the journey and history of our art. Lying before us, entombed under a 4-foot, stone monolith, was the man who brought Iaido from Japan to our sensei in Canada. One by one, the five of us, students of Goyo Ohmi-sensei, paid our respects to the man who meant so much to Iaido in Eastern Canada.

  Although none of us have seen him in person, we hope that his spirit is carried on in our training.

With smell of incense and the feeling of wonder still in our minds, we headed back to the Musashi Dojo for more practice. From 9pm to 10:45 we worked on the Shoden and Chuden sets of Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu. The class was just as productive as the morning Seitei session. Our group got numerous tips which I furiously scribbled down onto a little notebook.



On the morning of the 16th we bid adieu to our new friend and set out to continue our journey. The next six days were not related to Iaido, and went something like this:

Travel, Castle, Travel, Shrines, Travel, More castles and shrines, Travel, Met up with our 6th group member, Travel, Snow Monkeys, Travel, Travel, Travel.

On Nov 19th we made a side trip to the Shudokan in Osaka. A quaint, little building beneath the shadow of Osaka Castle, it had the feeling of a dojo that would probably hold little meaning for anyone. The location just happens to be where our sensei started his Iaido training over 40 years ago, and thus has extra feeling for this group of travelers. Unfortunately, it was closed on this day, so we weren't able to look inside.


On Nov 22nd our scheduled afternoon training session was with Tsubaki-sensei and Hatakenaka-sensei at a Japan Airlines facility where Tsubaki-sensei worked. We were also joined by Yoshimura-sensei (7th dan at the time) and two other students who were practicing for the upcoming Kanto Provincial Iaido Competition on the 24th. From 1pm to 3pm, Tsubaki-sensei helped us with etiquette, basic movements and the seitei set. He had noted during the last Sei Do Kai Spring Iaido Seminar (May 2007) that the etiquette and fundamentals of Canadian Iai was somewhat lacking. As a result, we were given special attention on these aspects. After a short break, Hatakenaka-sensei arrived and took over our practice. We were given the choice of two specific kata to work on, and chose "Uke Nagashi" and "Shihogiri" from the Seitei set. To begin, Hatakenaka-sensei gave us specific pointers on what was important in the kata. She also informed us of minor changes in focus that the judging committees are looking for during gradings and tournaments in Japan. As had been our experience with Trevor Jones sensei, the class consisted of a bit of group instruction, then free practice with individual corrections. Instruction was passed on to us quite seamlessly through head shakes, nods, pointing and the occasional sensei demo. The language barrier was absolutely not a problem, although when needed, we did have our lovely translator present. :)


   On Nov 23rd, practice was held in two separate locations. From 9am to noon, we trained at Hatakenaka sensei's home dojo; a small gym at an elementary school. We began with opening etiquette where a member of the dojo would call out the different reiho: "Shomen ni rei", "Sensei ni rei", and "To rei". After a brief warmup as a group, we went through the ZNKR seitei set once, followed by Omori ryu. Newer students who were unfamiliar with the koryu were told to continue doing seitei "Mae", while the lone beginner student worked on Kiri-kudashi (forward cuts) for the entire class. Impressive, considering the class was 3 hours long :. From there, we were given free practice to work on any koryu we wanted. Hatakenaka sensei would walk around the class of about 20, giving corrections or demoing a technique. In one instance, she asked Kevin Adams, Michael and I whether we knew "Hayanuki", a combination of all 10 kata in the MJER Chudan set, as it was a good way to warm-up and get loose. She seemed rather entertained by our performance and we quickly forgot about the open gym door and the breezy 10C outside. The class ended with 5-kata demos from everyone in the room.
   Following lunch, we again traveled to the Japan Airlines facility where a pre-taikai class had already begun for the Shinjuku area dojos who would represent that part of Tokyo in the Taikai the next day. Different groups were lead by Kikkawa Hisashi (Hachidan, Hanshi) sensei with the higher dans, and Kuwata (Nanadan) sensei with the lower dans. We were able to continue working with Hatakenaka sensei until around 4pm. Again there were demos with students from each of Kikkawa and Kuwata sensei's (MSR) dojos demoing as a group. We were honoured to represent Hatakenaka sensei as Canadian students of MJER.

   The next day, we left the hotel bright and early to watch the 2008 Kanto Provincial Iaido Taikai held at the Tokyo Budokan. Arriving 30 minutes before starting time, we were guided up to our seats reserved for the Shinjuku team. Opening ceremonies were performed with over a thousand participants, judges and presenters. We watched intently as Hatakenaka, Tsubaki and Kuwata senseis (who had visited Guelph only 6 months before) demo'd in the Nanadan group. Yoshimura sensei (Nanadan at the time) earned 3rd place in the individual competition and combined with a Yondan (I believe from Kikkawa sensei's dojo) and a Sandan from Hatakenaka sensei's dojo to win 1st place in the group division.


The day (and our trip) concluded with a huge awards ceremony. We gave thanks and said our goodbyes as the Shinjuku group went out to celebrate a good showing.

In making this trip such a success, there are a couple people I would like to thank.

Special thanks to Kevin Adams for corresponding with Trevor Jones-sensei to organize our trip to Ohara.

Very special thanks to Hanna Ikeda for corresponding with Tsubaki-sensei to organize our visit to Tokyo. Her tireless efforts in translating everything from Iaido Corrections, to Speeches, to Regular Conversations; and putting up with all our questions: what did he say? Can you ask them this and that? Etc.. Was much appreciated.

Also thanks to Angie Ho, Elite Tours Inc. for organizing and booking flights and lodging, and providing us with an excruciatingly detailed itinerary!

Pictures provided by Kevin Lee, Kevin Adams, Michael Suen and Patrick Suen

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Physical Training Sept 2008