Physical Training Nov 2009
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Hamster Clan back to Japan 2009 - Training Day 3

copyright 2009  Patrick Suen, all rights reserved

(Read about Day 1 HERE and Day 2 HERE)

Monday, July 13. Another day of training, another day of 30+ degrees C and 80%+ humidity. We had about two weeks of summer in Toronto this year, so looking back? Maybe it wasn't so bad. Five hours of Iaido and you can always cool down with a beverage and ice cream, or two....or three ;).

Our practice that day would be with Tsubaki-Sensei (Iaido Kyoshi 7 Dan, Jodo Kyoshi 7 Dan) at the Shinjuku Sports Center (near Takadanobaba train station). The red brick building is several stories tall and located on the Shinjuku University Campus. Looking around, you could see students walking to and from classes and enjoying the outdoors. Several paintings were displayed prominently on the stone paths between faculties. They seemed to be finalists for some recent competition. All the beautiful scenery, and us with a full day of indoor Iaido practice scheduled... *sigh*

Tsubaki-Sensei had reserved four hours of his time in the afternoon to instruct us in ZNKR Seitei. That morning he was helping a couple students prepare for the Jodo taikai in six days. Lucky for us, the dojo space was available for open martial arts practice and we intended to make use of that time. Arriving at 10:30, we saw Tsubaki-Sensei already helping Yaguchi-san (Jodo 5 Dan), whom we had met at the JAL gymnasium the previous day. Also in the room were a dozen highschool/college girls practicing Shorinji Kempo, a couple old ladies doing Taichi sword, and a bunch of old men practicing some type of armed koryu. We settled in a spot by windows that stretch from the floor to the ceiling, and started practicing.


Did I mention it was 30+ degrees with 80%+ humidity AND no air conditioning? I found myself wiping away copious amounts of sweat after every two kata. Tokyo's combination of heat and moisture were doing their best to push us to our limits. However, after travelling 14,000+ kilometers from Toronto, giving in was not an option. At the end of the morning session, Yaguchi-san excused herself, while her training partner, Matsumoto-Sensei (Iaido 7 Dan, Jodo 6 Dan), decided to stay for Iaido. Matsumoto-Sensei would also be competing in the Jodo taikai in the 6 Dan division. With two hours of practice over, we felt we earned a hearty lunch.

One of the joys of spending time in Japan is the variety of local cuisine at bargain prices. Luckily for us, there was a Family Mart (the third largest convenience store franchise in Japan) right in the building. Lined along the many refrigerators were boxes and boxes of bento. We could select from chicken, meat, fish, and vegetarian styles of pre-packed meals at less than $8 Canadian. The same portions at home would cost double that!

We each purchased a tasty-looking box and settled down on the benches outside the dojo for a replenishing meal.

Given the brief respite, we took advantage by asking the instructors a couple of questions suggested by our Sensei (Ohmi Goyo). The answers were brief and simple, yet eye opening:

1. How would you start instructing a brand new student to Iaido?

"Ideally, in the first year, a student would work on basics: vertical cuts, footwork, and large motions. Depending on progression, they can then move onto Ipponme Mae (the first kata of ZNKR Seitei). Nowadays, young people are in such a hurry. They are not willing to take the time to learn. Quality of basics are given up for quantity of techniques."

2. How would you compare Japan to Canada in this respect?

"I'm a little ashamed to admit that in the early stages, Canadian basics (kihon) are equal, or even better than many Japanese. In Tokyo, within 2-3 months, a student is expected to grade for Ikkyu. Within 6 months, Shodan. As a result, kata are taught in bulk, rather than in sequence of understanding."

Unfortunately, lunch ended all too quickly and the afternoon session was ready to begin. The security officers in the building were very punctual in kicking out people at the end of each session, so we wanted to start early to make best use of the time we had. They weren't; however, strict in checking for rental tickets. Tsubaki-Sensei knew this and gave us a mischievous smile as we just saved another 400 yen. Yes! ^_^

From 1:00 to 5:00pm, our instruction was split between the two sensei. We were given some generic points on each technique, then free practice with individual corrections. For the interest of readers who also practice ZNKR Iaido, here are a few critical points we were corrected on:


Mae - Your legs should be parallel at all times. This helps you maintain proper balance and provides the most power straight forward towards the opponent. The knees should be at 90% to maintain proper distance. Overstretching would imply that the opponent was far away. This is not the case for Seitei Iai.

Ushiro - When you initially sense the opponent's aggression, do not get up fully on your knees or opponent will be able to predict your turn. Instead, rise only enough to get your toes under your body and use a spiralling motion to perform nukitsuke.

Morote Tsuki - On the first draw, target your tsuka kashira at opponent's eyes to provide seme. The opponent is farther away than most of the other kata so you want to be able to maintain enough pressure to give yourself the split second necessary to make the first cut.

Soete Tsuki - On the first draw, target your tsuka kashira above your opponent's shoulder. Unlike Morote Tsuki, the distance between you and your opponent is much closer. If you draw too low, the opponent will be able to grab your tsuka or knock your draw to the side.

At 5pm sharp, the public announcement system informed us that the afternoon session was over and we headed for the changerooms. After a quick photo, we thanked Matsumoto-Sensei and wished him luck on Saturday. Turned out, he didn't need it. :)

Matsumoto Tsubaki Japan

The previous day we had mentioned to Tsubaki-Sensei that we were looking for some new Iaido gear. Although online stores like Tozando and E-Bogu have become quite proficient at selling equipment to North Americans, nothing really beats the ability to (personally) test it before buying. We looked through piles and piles of black, white and blue uniforms at all levels of quality. Hanna and I each settled for a medium-high range hakama and even got our names embroidered for free. The work would take six days to complete, so we took the receipts and headed out. Our next stop was an Iaido class run by Hatakenaka-Sensei (Iaido Kyoshi 7 Dan) every Monday evening in a small elementary school gym.

  Tokyo budo store Tokyo budo store

Located in South Tokyo, it had a typical feel of most Japanese schools - meticulously clean, sliding doors, wood floors and a small yard out front. The "dojo" consisted of a large open area with basketball nets lining the walls. A small stage was located at the far end away from the main entrance, and several large doors along one side were open to let the air circulate. We were allowed to drop in, but were asked to leave when the gym got too crowded. This particular class was used to prepare several of her students for a female-only Iaido tournament the following week (a day after we were to arrive back in Canada). We positioned ourselves opposite the large doors and began practice anew. Windows were open on our side facing a grove of tropical vegetation, home to a family of hungry mosquitos, as we were to find out not 2 minutes into practice. We held on for about half an hour and decided to leave as the 12th and 13th members of the dojo showed up to take our spots on the floor. We thanked her again for the chance to practice (even for such a short time) and confirmed our next meeting three days from then.

  Hatakenaka dojo

It was about 8:00pm when we stepped outside. The air was much cooler than during the day, and the sun had gone down over 30 minutes before. The mosquitos weren't out in force as they were earlier; for that we were very thankful. The walk back to the train station was quiet. All three of us were tired from the long day of training and travelling, and we spent this time reflecting on the things we learned. Back at the hotel, we settled for the quickest meal we could find, Ramen, and completed our day with nice long showers.

Tuesday and Wednesday would be our site-seeing and adventure days, so this recap will continue with a trip to the Meiji Shrine on Thursday, followed by more Iaido on Friday.

Stay tuned for Training Day four and a half - Kyudo surprise and more Iaido

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