Physical Training May 2010
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Maai as a Way of Separating Koryu and Seitei

copyright 2010 Kim Taylor, all rights reserved

First let me quickly say that I don't have an overall point about distance within koryu or seitei forms. What follows is simply a way to look at a difference between a kata done in a koryu and in a seitei set of techniques in order to understand how to look at maai in a kata.

Distance is often a problem in iaido but it can also be a problem in a partner practice such as jodo. We will examine two jodo kata, one from the koryu (Shindo Muso Ryu) and one from the ZenKenRen jo (seitei) set. We will then look at another pair of kata from Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu and from the ZenKenRen iai (seitei) set. Distance is pretty easy to see in a partner practice, but it exists in the solo practice of iaido as well, as we shall see.

Jodo Seigan

The jodo kata Seigan is the final kata in the Chudan set of the Shindo Muso Ryu and it is the tenth kata of the ZKR jo. The sword approaches the jo with the blade in the belt (saya). Jo takes the initiative and forces sword to stop by shoving the jo into his face, then locking his right wrist down as sword grasps the hilt. As sword tries to disengage under the jo to draw the blade, jo reverses his weapon and thrusts into the short ribs of sword to force him back. Sword manages to draw the sword and takes a swing at jo's forward hand. Jo avoids and reverses the stick once more to strike down onto sword's head (koryu) or solar plexus (seitei).

In the Kendo Federation schools, the seitei is usually practiced first and sword often has a problem with being too close to do the cut to the hand. The usual instruction is for the jo to be told to thrust more aggressively to encourage sword to move back further. Similarly, jo is often too close after the avoidance of the cut to the hand, and he is often told to move back more fully as sword cuts.

Students often have a problem with these instructions as they don't seem to make sense intrinsically, why should one step and cut if the target is in range? Once the student has studied Seigan from the koryu, a possible answer presents itself in the form of a simple difference in maai, a choice point that is based on a difference in distance which happens when the sword disengages to draw the sword. If the sword is very aggressive he may only withdraw as far as is needed to avoid being struck with the jo, and then counterstrike very quickly. If the sword wishes a bit more space to move and breath, he may withdraw further than is strictly necessary in order to better assess the situation. Depending on this initial separation by sword, jo will be best served by one form of the kata or another.

Here are some photographs to illustrate the point.

Jo interrupts sword as she walks forward by thrusting into her face.

Then locks the jo down on the right wrist.

Sword responds by dropping the hilt under the jo and drawing while turning away to the right.

Jo responds by reversing the stick and thrusting at sword to encourage her to step back.
This is the end of the common movements.

Koryu: Here sword has stepped back just far enough to avoid being hit with the stick

Seitei: In this case, sword has chosen to move back further as she avoids the stick.

As you can see here, sword is out of range to cut back at jo.

We can see that at this distance sword can strike jo on the forearm.

As sword strikes for the forearm, jo removes her hand and slides her hands to the other end of the jo.

As the sword steps back in with the right foot, jo avoids the cut.

If sword steps back in, she can hit jo's forearm.

After the avoidance, jo is at a good distance to strike sword on the head from this foot together position.

Jo now steps back in to strike sword, who is a bit further away.

If jo tries to do the strike on the head with her feet together, sword is out of range.

It is often said that the seitei form of Seigan is done because the koryu version is too dangerous. I tend to agree that the koryu form may be dangerous for beginners, but why the extra stepping? It would be as easy to simply drop the target from the head to the chest would it not? Actually the chest is an awkward target if the distance is too close, as most jodo students have found. The longer maai in the seitei version of the kata makes the chest a good target.

Once again, in this partner practice it is easy to see the maai, and how it affects the kata, or rather, how the kata movements themselves determine what the maai should be. If we are told to step in and attack, the maai must be such that we need to step in to attack the target correctly. If we have to do strange stutter steps to avoid cutting someone behind our partner, we are likely not at the proper maai.

Iaido Mae

Let's move on to iaido where it is sometimes hard to understand what is happening since we have no partner. One of the common differences between Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu and ZKRiai mae is that the koryu version is "more square". We may be told that this is a result of the different targets, with koryu cutting across our imaginary opponent's chest (and thus a wider, more square finish position for nuki tsuke, the first strike). In Seitei we are cutting across the face, which means that we finish our strike with the tip of the blade in front of our right shoulder, thus the chest is angled more toward the left than for koryu.

Let's use this to look at another "difference" between seitei and koryu, the slide forward in seitei vs. the shorter movement in the koryu. If you don't know what I'm talking about here, there are many videos available online which will show these two kata. One convenient place would be

Why do we slide forward in Seitei Mae and not in Koryu Mae? Let's look at the pictures while we remember that for both versions, the initial horizontal cut is done at the same height.

Zen Ken Ren Iai (Seitei) Mae

Anticipating trouble, the defender (right) gets the jump on the attacker (left).
Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu (Koryu) Mae.

Here the attacker on the left has a slight "drop" on the defender on the right.

Before the attacker can rise, the defender cuts her across the eyes. Note that the defender must stretch forward to reach the target so her chest is angled.

In Koryu Mae the target of the first cut (nuki tsuke) is the right shoulder of the attacker. As you can see, the attacker must have risen up to put the shoulder into the same height as the draw. Note the more square position of the defender's body.

When the defender squares up to grasp the blade with both hands, she is out of range of the target, so she must slide forward in order to do the second cut.

Because we move forward as well as up when we rise out of seiza (due to being hinged at the knees) the defender can now reach the attacker's head without having to slide forward.

So we see that even though there is no partner to work with in iaido, the kata still inform us about maai. Our imaginary attacker (teki) must be in certain positions and at a certain distance for our kata to "work".

I hope these two simple examples of how to think about the effects of maai in pairs of kata will stimulate more thought about your own practice.

Thanks to Liz and Pam for taking some time out of their practice to model for these photographs.

Kim Taylor is a nanadan (7dan) in the Canadian Kendo Federation iaido section. He is available for seminars in iaido, jodo and niten ichiryu.

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