The Iaido Journal  Oct 2011
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One-on-One with Dennis Wiens (1)
(1st dan, Katori Shinto Ryu - Sugino Branch)

copyright © 2011 Douglas Tong, all rights reserved.

The following article is the first part of an interview with Dennis Wiens (1st dan, Katori Shinto Ryu- Sugino Branch), who is a long-time practitioner of Katori Shinto Ryu from St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. Mr. Wiens took his shodan test in 2008 in Sherbrooke, Quebec, and successfully passed. This series of articles detail his thoughts and emotions about that momentous event in his life.

In this article, Mr. Wiens talks about the first day of his shodan grading.

Author’s note: This interview was conducted in March 2011 in Toronto, Canada. As a little bit of background, Mr. Wiens was my student from 1997-2008. I must thank Mr. Kim Taylor for his suggestion that I interview Dennis Wiens about his testing, as he (Mr. Taylor) thought it would provide a fascinating look into the way gradings are conducted in certain old styles of swordsmanship (koryu). As we will see, this proved to be the case.

Part 1: The First Day (Friday Night)

Question: Tell us about the venue of the test.

Wiens: It was in a CEGEP*, which is a college, in their athletics complex.

* Undoubtedly the CEGEP de Sherbrooke. CEGEP are junior colleges in the province of Quebec which function as a preparatory school (after you have graduated high school) before admission to university. In theory, the purpose of the CEGEP is to provide better academic preparation for university and to make post-secondary education more accessible to all. For more information about the CEGEP system, see CEGEP.

Question: How big was the gym?

Wiens: Big. Maybe 4 or 5 times the size of the JCCC dojo*.

* The dojo at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto. This interview was conducted after our demonstration there for the JCCC’s Haru Matsuri (Spring Festival) 2011.For more information about the JCCC, see their website: JCCC.

Question: When you arrived, what was the atmosphere like?

Wiens: There was a general tension in the air. Tension* I guess from the anticipation of seeing Sugino Sensei. Everyone was nervous because we knew that there would be plenty of corrections on the way.

* As a little bit of background, it is a well-known fact amongst practitioners of Sugino–style Katori Shinto Ryu that Sugino Sensei gets angry when students do technique incorrectly. He becomes even more angry if corrections are not made after he gives the corrections.

Question: What was Sensei’s reaction when he first saw you?

Wiens: He nodded his head and then went into his own corner to get prepared. I went over to say hi to him and he confirmed that my test would be on Sunday morning. Then he did a little iaijutsu by himself to get in the mood for the upcoming seminar*.

* Sugino Sensei comes to Quebec every year to conduct seminars. The seminars are held over a weekend, typically Friday night, Saturday all day, and Sunday all day.

Question: What was his mood like?

Wiens: Well, business-like. Serious.

Question: Did he say anything to you?

Wiens: After our initial pleasantries, no. He started getting prepared. And then everyone else wanted to say hi to him, so I didn’t want to monopolize his time.

Question: What did you do first in the seminar?

Wiens: Bowing in. We got into lines. We started doing maki-uchi.*

* Maki-uchi is the basic cut to the head. It has been discussed in forums: E-budo discussion on maki-uchi.

Question: How did he organize the large group?

Wiens: He made two sets of two lines, facing each other. One set on one side. One set on the other.

Question: How many people in total?

Wiens: Around 45-50 people.

Question: Where was Sugino Sensei in relation to you?

Wiens: I was lined up facing a partner and he was the next pair over. He was not on my side of the line but opposite me, in the next pair. So he was basically in front of me and was watching me all the time.

Question: So you didn’t get tested on the first day?

Wiens: Well, we started with maki-uchi, and with the first cut, he nailed me. He stopped everyone, the entire gym. He said, “No!” And he had a correction for me right away. It wasn’t a big “No”; it was a quiet “No.”
So as soon as he did that, I got the feeling that the test had already begun…

Question: I see. So what happened next?

Wiens: The rest of the warm-up was the usual: cutting practice and the practice of kamae. Then we did ik-kajo and ni-kajo.*

* the first and second kata of the “omote-tachi” set. Omote-tachi is the set of introductory, basic sword kata that all practitioners must learn before they can move onto more complex material.

Question: So nothing special that night?

Wiens: No. But, you know, I received corrections over the course of the evening so I was determined to make sure that I got them down before the next day’s practice. So after the seminar, at the hotel room, I practiced to be ready for the next day.

Question: Did Sensei give you any advice?

Wiens: No, not that night.

Question: How do you evaluate your first day? How did you do?

Wiens: At the time, I didn’t think I did so well. I was doing the best I could but when you know you’re there to be tested and you’re doing so many things wrong, you don’t feel confident. But I wasn’t down about it. I was just happy to practice and to have the chance to have Sensei give me corrections. I wasn’t down or depressed at all.

Question: Did you think it went well?

Wiens: No… but that’s OK. It didn’t bother me. It was kind of funny actually.

Question: How do you mean?

Wiens: The whole thing about getting corrected. I didn’t even get one cut in before I got the correction. It was just funny.

Author’s post-script:

There are three interesting issues that were brought up in Mr. Wiens’ experience that first night which I would like to focus on.

First, the issue of practicing in his hotel room. The time was probably after 11:00 pm or even later. The seminar the next day starts at 10:00 am. He is exhausted physically after the 10 hour drive to Sherbrooke, followed by the 3 hour seminar and the stress of meeting and performing under the eye of the headmaster. He is drained emotionally. But he is still practicing because he has to prepare for the next day.

Which budo virtue was exemplified here? Dedication.

Second, I believe Mr. Wiens knew that this was his chance. Almost like a one and only chance. He was not letting this chance slip by. And rightfully so. To have worked so hard for a decade and this is the one culminating moment in time where it all comes together… or not. It is not a time to get weak or vacillating. Mr. Wiens saw how the weekend would go and he got to work to ensure that he would be prepared for the next trial.

Which budo virtue did this demonstrate? Determination.

Third, when we listen to Mr. Wiens recount his experiences that night, we see clearly his attitude. We see his attitude on training: he is genuinely happy to practice, to work on his technique, over and over again. We see his attitude on learning. He is ready for the corrections. He is ready to get to work on implementing those corrections and improving his technique.

Which budo virtue does this example epitomize? Correct attitude.

Success or failure in martial arts is all about these three budo virtues.

Mr. Tong can be contacted via email at:
Mr. Tong also writes many articles on teaching martial arts. You can read them at: Physical Training: Fitness for Combatives Electronic Journal

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