Physical Training Aug 2009
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Let's hear it for Seitei

copyright 2009 Kim Taylor, all rights reserved

Let's hear it for Seitei

When I was younger I used to write every day, usually bad poetry of the 20 year old existential angst slash wounded in love type, but I would always start with a warmup verse or two. I always wrote about my pen and my notebook... well let me demonstrate.

Little white computer
mouse, almost larger than the screen
and a flexible keyboard that wobbles
almost worse than my feelings
toward seitei iai
that endlessly changing, always static
never to be owned
art of the sword.

as always
for just a little inspiration.

There you have it, another in a series of hundreds of poems dedicated to the tools of my trade. It's a warmup, a way to get the pen moving over the paper, or in this case, my fingers moving over this silly roll-up keyboard which is better than the tiny little thing attached to the eeepc I'm using, but not much. Nor is it much more wobbly in the keys. Regardless, now I'm writing and in the warmup I've even managed to catch my reason for writing.

Which is "thank kami for seitei gata"

Having spent three days in Boise Idaho at the AUSKF national iaido seminar being a student again, I am thoroughly worked over. My left foot is so damaged I'm still limping almost two weeks later. I suppose tromping through the woods with a chainsaw cutting wood so my students don't freeze to death this winter doesn't help.

Yes I cut wood for my students and yes that's a plea for some sympathy. You have to be brutally self-honest in the martial arts... but that's another story.

Standing in front of Kishimoto sensei, chair of the iaido section of the All Japan Kendo Federation, I was back in school, twisting and turning my feet, trying to catch the latest nuances of Zen Ken Ren Iai or as we all call it, Seitei Gata.

This set, which has been around for 30 years, is still being refined, with the occasional "change" but mostly with explanations that come down from the top fellow, through the committee, down to all the 8dans, then the sevens, and maybe, if we're lucky, to the students in the west. See why I was there to watch the man himself?... and Yamazaki sensei too by the way, not sure if he's number three or number two at the moment, but either way, he's worth watching too.

My thoughts during the seminar, being right up front, listening carefully as I was told that the furikaburi motion was now back to where I did it 15 years ago, before spending ten changing it to what was then the correct motion? Well after I finished laughing out loud I thought "chewy".

OK it's a strange word to pop into my head but let's face it, I've now got months worth of things to chew over in my head and especially in my practice. Months to work the details into my own iaido, to force myself to pay attention and to refine my ability to control the sword.

Which is of course, the intention. Seitei is where everyone in the organization demonstrates that they can control their sword. By working on the details forever, by concentrating on the physical refinements and the riai, the meaning behind the movements, we all understand the sword a bit better each time we practice.

Compare this to an iaido practice where you "own" the techniques. You do them as you feel they are right and correct and you never change them due to outside instruction since they are "yours" and you do them as a demonstration of your own understanding of iaido.

That can get pretty stale pretty fast. As you get older and fall into bad habits your iaido will drift and change, usually not for the better. With no need to pay attention to what you're doing you can start to get sloppy. Of course you can compensate for this if your ego will let you study and learn from others, and if you're still a junior the problem doesn't arise since you're still learning, but for those who are at the top of their particular hill.... well as I said, "thank the kami for seitei" because if I ever get to the top of my particular hill I'll still have something to keep me honest, something chewy.

Oh, how do you get to the top of your hill? Stick around long enough and you'll be there

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