Iaido Journal July 2010
20th Annual Sei Do Kai Spring Iaido and Jodo Seminar
2010 Steve Kubien, all
photos courtesy Stephen Cruise
Welcome to the 20th
annual Sei Do Kai, Spring Iaido and Jodo Seminar. Well, ok, you
aren’t actually here but I wish you were. Since you are not, you
will have to rely on my reporting abilities (or lack thereof).
click for large photo
For me, the seminar began
on Friday. I got to Guelph around 3pm. I check into the hostel
here at the university, which is student residence when classes are
in session. First class of the weekend is at 4pm so I had to get
unpacked, organized, dressed and over to the athletic centre.
This class is kind of cool
because most attendees do not come into town until Friday night (when
they finish work) or Saturday morning. All of that means a small
class size, and still a full compliment of sensei’s to teach. It
also means lots of corrections. See, I do not come to this to be
told how wonderful I am doing at everything I touch. Oh no. I come
here to get my techniques critiqued, torn apart and corrected. I am
NEVER disappointed because so much of what I do is so vastly
different from the correct way it ought to be done.
I study jodo, a
400-year-old Japanese martial art. On the surface, there is not a
lot to jodo…12 basic movements (kihon), 12 paired movements (kihon
sotai dosa) and 12 kata (combinations of movements with a partner).
That’s it. I can run through the entire syllabus in about 25
minutes. And yet, to get really good at this, well, I figure 40
years of training ought to get me close. Really. There are so many
little things that make or break techniques that it’s really quite
-Back to the reporting….
Friday’s class saw us
work through the kihon. Both Furukawa Sensei and Arai Sensei led the
class. It always amazes me that they stress the same things every
year. Relax. Strike to your opponent’s eyes. Zanshin. I wonder
if we will ever understand that kuri tsuke, kuri hanashi and tai
atari start with a crisp, wiiiiiidddddeee step the left? Ok, some
people understand this but we still get told, “wider stance!”
Oh, and I should mention that bowing may not be the biggest deal here
in North America for some people. But, in Japan (and jodo is a
Japanese art) it is a VERY big deal. It is not difficult but get it
right! Senior students, help the newer folks! That’s your
responsibility in the dojo!
One more pet peeve and
rant before I move on…BE ON TIME FOR CLASS! It doesn’t matter if
you are an ikkyu, a menkyo-whatever-top-dog. If you cannot tell
time, hang out with people who can. It’s just plain disrespectful
and inconsiderate. Be on time.
The class carried on with
us being partnered with folks and we worked through the seitei kata.
We didn’t get through all 12 due to time constraints but that’s
ok. I think the visiting sensei’s were trying to gauge where we
were as a group and, thus, how they were going to steer the practises
for the rest of weekend. One thing was certain…they were going to
work us hard.
Friday night is a rather
informal thing at the seminar. There is no planned activity or
get-together. Nonetheless, a few of us found our way to a local pub
and took part in another type of training: food and
liquid-refreshment waza. It was great to catch up with Eric Tribe,
Doug, Kat, Pam Morgan and our friendly wandering samurai-kendo-guy
from Idaho Sensei Rob Stroud.
This year I was fortunate
to stay in residence with a folks from Calgary. Chris and his
students are a great bunch of guys. Cool thing about them is they
are early-risers and one (Keith? Kevin? Ian? Arrgh, sorry!!!!)
volunteered to pound on my door at 7am Saturday morning. A fresh cup
of Timmie’s in hand and I was off to class for 9am. People
registered for the seminar under the guidance of Dave Green and we
lined up for general introductions to our Japanese guests as well as
a brief, “Where are you from and how long did it take you to get
here?” from the dojo leaders. This year it seemed like we had
fewer folks from the US than in years past but I would need stats to
confirm that. The winner in terms of distance travelled certainly
went to a pair of jodoka from Santiago, Chile! It was their first
trip to Canada and I think they really enjoyed themselves (and passed
Saturday morning’s class
saw us being drilled on the kihon or solo exercises. I feel so lucky
that my Sensei (Ward Jardine) drills us on the kihon every single
time we train and he doesn’t treat the kihon like a warm-up
exercise. No, these are an essential part of our training and he
really hammers home the necessity of good technique. Now, I’ve got
a lot less experience than many folks in terms of jodo but here are
the nuts and bolts of things…if you cannot do the kihon properly,
you cannot do the kata. Period.
In the afternoon we worked
on kihon sotai dosa or paired practise. It always amazes me how many
folks to not do this series of exercises and movements. These are
what tell you if your hikiotoshi is really as bad as you think and
also helps a lot with finding your range in all strikes. I felt
really bad for my partner during this class because she had never
seen or done the sotai dosa. She was lost. Being the less-than-shy
guy that I am, I started breaking things down and going slower than
the rest of the class. Furukawa Sensei saw what was going on and was
great with us. He stepped in when I needed help but generally left
us to work through at our own pace. My partner was really
self-conscious and knew we stood out against that rest of the class.
Whenever sensei spoke to us, she felt worse. I tried to explain that
corrections from sensei are not criticisms or complaints. They are
presents. They are gifts. They are to be cherished and welcomed. I
think she understood, at least later in the day when emotions and
adrenaline levels were lower.
Saturday Night Banquet
This is a tradition of the
seminar. Large quantities of solids and liquids are consumed while
checking out (and bidding on) a huge assortment of cool stuff in the
auction. The purpose is to raise money to offset the costs of
bringing the Sensei over from Japan while having a few laughs at
the same time. This year was pretty sweet in that a number of
letters and testimonials were read and spoken giving props to our
host, Sensei Kim Taylor. Sensei Taylor started this seminar. He
bankrolls it until we show up on the floor, weapons in hand. He
organizes it, along with the students of the Sei Do Kai who are not
to be forgotten. Sometimes I don’t think the students get as much
attention and adoration as they deserve from us so here we
go…”Students of Taylor Sensei and members of the Sei Do Kai, my
hat is off to you. I can only imagine the amount of work that goes
into this event. You are the unsung heroes. You help keep Sensei
Taylor sane throughout. Bravo and Thanks!”
Sunday is practise time
for those of us who were testing this year. In previous years we
have drilled our 5 test kata for 2 days straight and I must say I
prefer this approach. One day to get in the correct mindset is more
than adequate. After all, we are not practising to learn the kata.
It is all about intensity and being crisp. If you do not know the
kata when you come to Guelph, you should not be testing. My partner
Joe and I took things at a pretty leisurely pace. When the weapons
were flying, we were intense. Between kata we relaxed a lot.
I managed to sprain my
ankle early in the afternoon. Nice. I was really hoping I wasn’t
toast for the grading the next day. I enlisted the assistance of my
friend Miki to train with Joe for the rest of the afternoon. Miki
knows her stuff and is a treat to train with. For a tiny little
person, she really comes at you hard! Joe was in good hands. I was
off to ice and medicate my ankle. Vitamin I to the rescue!
Sunday evening there was a
potluck BBQ at the residence. This is a fun time. Sensei Taylor
held court and pontificated on such diverse topics as grading panel
anatomy, woodworking, barley-based liquid refreshment and hot sauce.
I didn’t stay late as my ankle was making it difficult to stand.
However, I ought to mention here…Ed, Miki, I have not forgotten
what we discussed and suitable pieces of wood are now being sourced.
Monday morning, grading
day. I love grading day. Seriously. It amuses me to see all of the
stressed out people. Folks, this is not life and death. If your
Sensei approved of you challenging for your next rank, well, in
his/her eyes you are good enough for that rank. I doubt you are
going to get treated differently whether you pass of fail. Relax
folks. Save your stress for something that really matters. Joe and
I went through our stuff a couple of times without stopping, as
though we were in the testing room. That was enough. We were as
ready as we would ever be. We tested. My ankle held up. As we
exited the testing room it gave out but that’s ok. I didn’t need
it anymore. Joe and I felt really good after our test. I do not
know if we are capable of performing better at this point in our
training. We left everything on the testing room floor. If we were
to fail, I would have no idea why. We gave it our best.
The members of Renseikan
went out for a dojo lunch after the results were posted. Some of use
wanted to celebrate. Some of us wanted explanations and to drown our
sorrows in cholesterol and fatty foods. Explanations were not
forthcoming so were left with the sad task of consoling and trying to
understand. I do not know how successful we were.
Injuries and exhaustion
caused our little band to depart Guelph and head for home. We were
“done” mentally, physically and emotionally. Our work was done
in that we came, were performed, we were corrected (again and again),
Now the task is to figure
out how to bring our training to the next level and try to gain a
deeper understanding of what we are doing. I have a feeling the next
few years are going to be a great time of learning for me. I learned
so much between my nidan and my sandan (yup, I passed). I can only
imagine what will come my way between sandan and yondan. I hope I am
able to see it and catch it.
The Japanese visitors heading home