The Iaido Journal  Mar 2013
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Interview: Kim Taylor on the Guelph Spring Seminar

copyright © 2013 EJMAS, all rights reserved.
photos copyright © 2012 Heather Dunning, all rights reserved.

We're interviewing Kim Taylor today, to ask about the annual Guelph Spring Iaido and Jodo Seminar.

Kim Taylor iaido
Kim Taylor demonstrating iaido, 2012 seminar

Q. How did the seminar start?

A. The Guelph Spring Iaido and Jodo seminar started back in 1991. I had begun practicing iaido with Goyo Ohmi sensei and Stephen Cruise sensei in 1987 and almost as soon as my first lesson I wanted to do something for those instructors who were both telling me that they needed a sensei of their own. I began a 'zine called The Iaido Newsletter and later one of my students at the University developed an internet list called Iaido-L. With those tools we slowly found enough people to think about doing a seminar with a teacher from Japan.

Q. Why not go to Japan yourself?

A. The seminar wasn't for me, it was for my teachers. I was fine with their instruction but I wanted to help them improve as well. It never occured to me to go to Japan and practice on my own, there wasn't any need.

Q. What about now, do you visit Japan?

A. I was there a couple of years ago with a group of students but I'd still rather concentrate on the seminar. I could go to Japan about once every two years I suppose, probably a bit less now that I'm not working at a regular job, but then it would be me getting a bit of instruction. With the seminar over a hundred people get training once a year from multiple instructors. I don't think that's any sort of trade-off at all, it's a no-brainer as they say.

Q. Who was the first instructor?

A. Bill Mears immigrated to Canada from the UK and got together with Ohmi sensei to train. Just before he came over he had met and practiced with Matsuo Haruna sensei in England and he told us about him. The next year we gathered a bit of money and sent Ohmi sensei across the pond to meet this teacher. When he came back Ohmi sensei said that we had found our instructor so the next year we invited Haruna sensei to Guelph. The seminar has run every year since although both Bill Mears and Haruna sensei have passed on. We now have several instructors in both iaido and jodo who come and teach each year.

Seminar Teachers
Tsubaki, Hatakenaka, Kishimoto, Furukawa, Kurogo and Ohmi sensei

Q. How do you fund the seminar?

A. It's strictly a user-pay situation, the students pay for the seminar out of the registration fees. There wasn't any other way to do it, hence the importance of getting participants from wherever we could through the 'zine and the email group.

The University of Guelph has been very good to us and in the early years they would cut us a break when we were a bit short. We are a sports club on campus and so we still get a bit of a break on rental fees compared to an outside group. It is also a very good deal for the students since the residence hostel is about thirty seconds walk away from the gym and the hostels are less than $40 a night.

Q. What support do you get now from other groups?

A. None at all, we don't need it. That being said, a lot of people donate their time and energy to the event. We always have a rather small club at the campus, maybe 5 or 6 students and all of them work the seminar, but a lot of students from the past also return every year and help. Dave Green is a good example, he comes back from Ottawa every year to work the registration table and every student will know him. Dave is a senior instructor but he's there every year at the table. We also have a group from Rochester who started with Bill Mears and they run the Saturday evening auction. They've passed it along from one person to another through the years and it's "their baby". Students donate items to auction off and those who attend the dinner always come up with enough to pay for their meals and then some.

Q. Can I ask how much the seminar costs?

A. Well over 20 thousand dollars, it varies depending on airfare from Japan, housing and food for the sensei, that sort of thing. This year the sensei will be in a hotel rather than the hostel so that doubles the housing costs.

Q. Why is that?

A. For many years Takeshi Kimeda sensei has been staying with the sensei and cooking for them. This year he's taking a break so rather than have a stranger come in and cook for the sensei we'll let them get their own breakfast at a hotel.

Q. Kimeda sensei the 9dan aikido instructor?

A. Yes of course. As I said, this seminar doesn't happen without all the participants chipping in and donating their time and energy. Kimeda sensei has been amazing, he coordinates with the sensei, shops, cooks, cleans, translates, acts as tour guide, and tries to get his own practice in at the seminar. I can't say enough about his help and I hope he'll be able to come back to attend next year after he's had some time to let his shoulders rest. Time for him to stop doing the cooking and cleaning if he does though, I'm going to insist on that.

Students and Hatakenaka sensei

Q. Is this an official CKF event?

A. We usually have a CKF grading at the seminar, over the years it's gone from a simple kyu grade to higher ranks but that's the extent of the official CKF involvement other than sending a letter to the International Kendo Federation to let them know the event is happening or to request panelists for senior gradings. The grading is a CKF thing and is actually outside the seminar, all the fees go through their accounting system and whatnot and they even pay some room rental for the time of the grading. Of course they benefit greatly from the seminar in that the panelists are already in one place, and the support personnel end up being those who are running the seminar.

Q. Do they support the seminar otherwise?

A. No, frankly the amount of money they would give us is not worth the paperwork and influence that would give them over the seminar.

Q. Does the ZNKR send you the instructors?

A. Only if we're asking for examiners to sit on a panel would the IKF (not the ZNKR) send someone of their choosing to attend. Otherwise the sensei are coming on private invitation, that way we can choose who comes which means we get consistent instruction from year to year.

Q. So if the IKF sends a sensei it's their choice who comes?

A. That's the usual situation. The IKF is very careful who they send abroad to teach Zen Ken Ren Iai and Jo (Seitei Iai and Seitei Jo), and just as careful who they allow to sit on a grading panel. The reasoning is that not every 7dan in Japan has experience sitting on grading panels so they want to vet who sits overseas.

Q. If they do send an instructor do they pay for them?

A. Not so far, it's case by case I was told, and in the case of this seminar we pay the way for whoever they send along and we also take care of them when they get here. Other events have different arrangements but as far as I know the IKF only pays for one airfare for one of the sensei and the host pays for anything beyond that. I've never heard that any country gets a better deal.

Q. So if the CKF wants a grading your seminar ends up paying for the sensei from Japan who are needed to make that happen?

A. Look, if the gradings aren't going to benefit the students at the seminar I'm not going to be spending seminar money to bring a delegation from Japan. The CKF gradings are something that we as students of the arts want, so we pay to bring the sensei over. They don't just sit on the panel, they replace (or, to be honest, usually are) our regular instructors so we aren't really losing anything by having official delegations. It makes no difference really to the Zen Ken Ren (Seitei) instruction.

Q. Is it just Seitei that is taught at the seminar?

A. That's the main focus, but koryu is usually taught at some point. It gets a bit complicated if there's an official IKF delegation, as they are not allowed to teach koryu, so one of the reasons we prefer private invitations is that the sensei can then teach koryu as well as Seitei.

Kishimoto sensei
Kishimoto sensei teaching Muso Shinden Ryu to Cruise sensei

Q. Why can't the official sensei teach koryu?

A. It's policy, they are there as IKF instructors and that means Seitei. Koryu is "sort of outside" the Kendo Federation, by which I mean the Kendo Federation does not teach koryu, individuals who are members of the Kendo Federation teach koryu as well as Seitei. The Kendo Federation iai and jo is what the Kendo Federation teaches, and every sensei they send officially is capable of teaching it in a standard way, so it doesn't matter who comes. The koryu are different, you have your sensei and you learn from him or her, there isn't any wide pool of standard instruction like there is for Seitei so it's important to have consistent instruction and that means the same sensei each year.

Now having said that, we have multiple teachers who come to teach but they're sort of a "small pool" of instructors who know each other and who teach us the koryu accordingly. They are all very senior and are well familiar with their various koryu styles and keep us on the correct path. They all share common roots so it's not like we've got massive stylistic differences coming at us every year.

Q. Is it just CKF members who come to the seminar?

A. No it's not even just Kendo Federation people who attend. Everyone is welcome. Of course people have to understand that the sensei are going to be teaching Seitei Iai and Jo, and the various koryu, specifically Muso Shinden Ryu iaido, Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu iaido and Shindo Muso Ryu jodo. We have Kendo Federation students from all over North and South America who attend, and the gradings are open to anyone affiliated with the IKF. There are mechanisms by which students outside Canada can grade, and many do, especially if their local Federations aren't offering iaido or jodo.

The nice thing about the seminar is that it is multi-level with several instructors, so a new visitor can slot right into their own experience level and start learning with a group. We have folks who have never practiced iaido or jodo, and those who are 6-7dan and several levels in between.

Q Is it stressful to run the seminar?

A. Hmm, I'd like to say that the stress folks see on me during the seminar is all an act, but it isn't. To be honest, the most stressful part of the seminar is always the gradings. Too many voices all with a say and I am often the one trying to get it sorted, I can't just make an executive decision and move on. I shouldn't say so, but I guess it's no secret that I'd rather not have the gradings at the seminar at all, when they are small and with all Canadian panels they're a lot less work than when the IKF gets involved. Yeah, I'd have to say that most of the big fights through the years have been over gradings.

Q. Care to share?

A. Not a chance.

Q. Why not?

A. The policy from day one was always "for the good of the students" which means they don't have to deal with the inevitable frictions that are part of being around other people and being in an organization. We have always tried to keep that stuff within the higher ranks, so there's no reason to air the dirty laundry here. As students get more responsibility for the running of things they get told the past stories as warnings on how not to do things or what to watch out for, but for most folks it should be sweetness and light.

Q. So what about the future, it's almost 25 years for the seminar, how much longer are you going to run it?

A. Since I never intend to die I can confidently say that I'll run it forever. But if it comes to it, I hope that my students will pick it up if they have to. There are a lot more events going on than there were when we started but this seminar is still one of the most important training chances of the year. I'd like to see it go for another 25 years or at least for as long as students want to attend.

Q. Anything you'd like to add?

A. Just an invitation to anyone who has an interest in iaido or jodo to come on out to the seminar, there's still room on the floor for another 50 or 60 participants I figure. By the way, it's May 17-20, 2013 and you can get the information at: I can't believe you didn't ask me when it was!

Kim Taylor with Patrice Williams
Patrice Williams and Kim Taylor practicing jodo

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