Physical Training Dec 2009
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Year End Thoughts on Practice

copyright 2009 Jeff Broderick, all rights reserved

Quick fix for Hikiotoshi in Jodo

There are few "quick fixes" in budo, or at least few that I have found, stumbled onto, or been taught. But occasionally, you do get something that instantly fixes a problem you've been having. Sensei had us do an exercise the other night that really helped me, and I thought I'd share it.

When we do hikiotoshi, most of us start out too stiff and rigid, and don't use our arms to full advantage. To fix that, most of the teachers I've met have emphasized using the forward hand. Let's say you're standing in "right hikotoshi", so you're looking at teki over your left shoulder, your left hand is over your chest, and your right hand is down by your right thigh. Most of the time, Sensei will tell you to use more left hand, squeezing as you strike. This is good, but it leads to another problem: neglecting the right hand! Of course you need to use both hands to their fullest to get a powerful hikiotoshi.

So, the other day, Sensei had us go into hikiotoshi no kamae, then just let go with the left hand, and do the strike using the right hand only. It's okay to "cheat" a little bit here and choke up on the jo by 10 cm or so. The feeling is almost like you are doing a one-handed sword strike to teki's sword. Suddenly, without the support of the left hand, you are using the right hand properly, thinking about things like "hasuji" and getting your hand and wrist in the proper position. You are also more-or-less unable to stop the jo, so you naturally do a beautiful follow-through after the strike. One-handed, I was doing better hikiotoshi strikes than I usually do with two hands. Remembering this feeling, I returned to the two-handed grip, and did some of the smoothest, quietest, most effective hikiotoshi strikes that I've done in a long time.

Try it and see if it helps you!

Correct Technique?

I think I've fixed the problem with my cut. (Readership: "Hurray! We were all losing sleep over that!") Sensei had been watching me with a sense of annoyance. I thought it was just annoyance at me for being unable to fix my swing, but now I'm guessing that he was a bit annoyed with himself for being unable to get to the root of my problem. A couple weeks ago, he got me to change the timing of my footwork with the cut. Before, I was doing a kind of 1 .. 2-3 timing, which means the front foot steps, I cut, and the back foot comes up at almost the same time. He tried to get me to do everything at the same time - not possible, in fact, but that's the feeling. I couldn't get it at all, until I started imagining I was doing kendo. Then I got it.

One thing I've learned since I've come to Japan is that there isn't one way to do things. You could be forgiven for thinking so in the west, at least for a while. You have a seminar, and a bigwig comes over and tells you, "This is THE way it is done." You silently think to yourself, "But X. Sensei told us to do it THIS way last year ... but I guess it's changed. Okay." The fact is, though, that not only does Seitei iai change from year to year, but it changes depending on whom you are learning from. This is a good thing, to some extent: everybody has their own way of doing iaido. Why should there be ONE way to do everything? If you analyze the way the top dozen golf pros hold their clubs, I'm sure you'll find a couple who do it differently than the others. But if they can all hit the ball roughly the same distance, with the same accuracy, who's to say who's right? Same for tennis, same for baseball, same for iaido.

The bummer part is that most teachers think they're right, and so whenever I have changed teachers, I have gotten some criticism that runs directly counter to what somebody else has just told me. Oh well; it keeps me from getting complacent, and that is a good thing, despite all my whining. All of this is just my long-winded way of saying that I've fixed my cut, for now, but when I change dojos again in the future, I'll very quickly be working to fix it again.

Winning and Losing in Kata

I was thinking the other day at jodo practice about "winning" and "losing". Even though it's already decided that the Jo side always defeats the Tachi, there is a dynamic within the kata that means that there is a "real winner", I think. I don't want to overstate this, nor do I want to make anybody think that the point of Jodo is to be the winner. But sometimes it's hard to ignore. You know you've "won" the kata when:
Basically, I'm not saying that your goal is to beat your partner up - although there seem to be many people in the Jodo world who think so! But if you can maintain an unperturbable mental state, while throwing your opponent off-balance mentally, then you've won.

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