Friday, May 27, 2005

The Real Meaning of Iai

During my practice last night it occurred to me (not for the first time) that "i" and "ai" basically mean wherever you are, whatever you're doing, you should be trying to "fit in" to your surroundings. In other words, you should always be acting appropriately for a given situation. This doesn't necessarily just apply to being ready to defend yourself. For example, if you're sitting in an office, are you sitting in such a way that you're blocking the aisle? Is somebody trying to get past you but you're oblivious to your surroundings? Also, are you acting appropriately in social situations? After all, if we're in the business of defending ourselves, then avoiding fights in the first place should be something we're working towards. That sort of thing...

After practice, I had a small drinking party with 4 other guys. One of them is generally a bit obnoxious but he certainly isn't anything extraordinary; he's the kind of guy who insists on using weird, badly-pronounded English even though he knows I can speak a fair bit of Japanese. And then by the same token, he is either incapable of, or doesn't want to speak in slow, simple Japanese so that I can understand him. So he'll come up to me, mumble something in rapid-fire Nihongo, and when I look bewildered, he'll say something like, "Weah dzoo yuu ribu?" Oh... "Where do you live." Right.

Anyway, as he got drunker and drunker, he got more and more irritating to the point where he was really starting to bother me. At first, he was just being weird, saying stuff like, "Do you like Japan?" (Yes.) "Do you like Japanese culture?" (Yes.) "But you hate Japanese people! Don't you? Don't you? Yes you do! You hate Japanese people! All you foreigners are the same! You hate the Japanese!" I was pretty taken aback by the weird direction the conversation was going so I tried to change the subject back to iaido.

Now, in actual fact, his iaido is absolutely atrocious for a number of reasons that I won't go into. But he suddenly started criticizing my iaido, particularly the way I do noto. Given that (a) he isn't very good, and (b) he's a Muso Shinden guy who obviously hasn't seen much Jikiden, I thought he was a bit out of line. Then he started saying stuff like, "Are you going to try to do a grading? You'll fail! You're terrible. You'll definitely fail!" and then he'd start cackling like a madman. Then he started quizzing me on my knowledge of iaido terms. He asked me, "Do you understand 'sei chu sen'?" I thought this meant something like "center line" so I said, "Do you mean the line between you and your opponent?" and he beamed triumphantly. "He doesn't even know what 'sei chu sen' means! He doesn't know anything about iaido!" And so it went, on and on.

Now, throughout this whole uncomfortable situation, the other partygoers were strangely silent. Nobody wants to offend anybody else, to the point where they are even unwilling to tell a guy like him to be quiet, so instead, they all found something very interesting to stare at on the ceiling and pretended like they weren't there. I kept thinking how, if only I spoke good enough Japanese to tell this guy what I thought of him, then I could really raise some eyebrows. Fortunately, though, I figured there was no point, so I just sat there and nodded and said, "Oh, do you really think so? Wow. That's interesting. Really? Mm-hmm." Besides, it was really obvious that he was incredibly insecure... all of this "foreigners hate us Japanese" sentiment must have come from somewhere. So I was doubly reluctant to tell him off.

As I was on my way home, I reflected that, not only is he technically inept at the physical side of iaido, but he really doesn't understand the term, either. Too bad he's wasting his time...

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


I had another good practice at Jodo last night. Well, not bad. I was practicing with a young-ish Japanese guy who is pretty good. But he had that full-on Japanese humility thing going, so when I asked him to tell me what my bad points were, he hemmed and hawed and wouldn't tell me anything directly. When he finally did give me some pointers, they were so incredibly vague and hesitant that I couldn't understand him. "So... which one is the good technique?" "Well, this one is perhaps in some sense somewhat better than the other one, maybe, in my opinion but not necessarily the case..." Okaaaaaayyyy...

After practice I felt tired but at lot better than usual. (Usually I look like a zombie as I shuffle my way home, groaning incoherently.) But the one thing that was bothering me was a persistent pain in my knees. Usually it's iaido that bothers my knees, so that's a bit worrisome. I was reminded of a report I saw recently about how overweight people are WAY more likely to have knee problems than normal people. (Big surprise there.) So it seems that there is yet another reason to lose weight. Wow. Is there anything good about being overweight, except the obvious fact that it is (Fat Bastard voice:) incredibly SEXAY???

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Grading Impossible?

I was talking to one of the other students of the iai dojo I go to. He's a former Junior High School English teacher so I can usually understand what he's talking about... Anyway, I brought up the subject of doing my 5th-dan grading, and he says that there's a grading in July, but that you have to attend at least 2 seminars in a year in order to be allowed to challenge a grade. (That might be a good idea for the CKF Iaido section to adopt! Get all those Toronto folks out of the city once in a while...) They hold a seminar about every 2 months, which means that I probably can't squeeze in 2 seminars before July. Hmmm. On one hand, "gradings don't matter, show your grade on the floor," etc. but on the other hand it's kind of disappointing to have that feeling of falling behind somehow.

I have been getting some good pointers lately. Well, I'm not sure if they're good, but they're from a different perspective so that's interesting. Basically, at this dojo, they seem very keen on making sure that everything is done "clearly" and without ambiguity. So when they do Seitei, it is really bereft of any feeling, but it sure is deliberate and obvious that they are hitting this point, and then that point, and so on. Like I said, it's an interesting way of doing things. So now when I am practicing, I am really concentrating on doing all those little details properly.

I haven't been to see Kaneda Sensei yet, but hopefully will get there soon.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

How Low Can You Jo?

So I guess the May seminar is going on now... enjoy it! I'm sad I'm not there. By the way, if you manage to sell my painting at the auction, don't forget to tell the buyer that they need to wait a couple months and then spray the painting with varnish....

Last night I got worked over in jodo. First, Furukawa Sensei almost cut off my right man-boob when we were doing Ran-Ai. He keeps hitting me in the same place, and I keep being there, within his reach. I can't seem to move back far enough! Anyway, even though I know it's coming, I keep getting hit so he has been hitting me harder and harder every time in an effort to teach me to move back. Last night he hit me so hard I thought I must be bleeding. Today, my right tit still hurts. Argh.

Then, I got singled out and corrected... endless corrections. I should be grateful; well, actually I am grateful. But it's hard to fix 20 things at a time. The big point they have for me is to do everything lower. I feel like I'm doing karate now. My stance is really deep and low. The front leg is bent forward over the knee and the back leg is straight and tight.

Also, I am overextending the jo, so I have to be careful to keep the back hand within one fist of my tanden, and to one side of the center line (i.e., if it's the left hand, the fist is left of center). The jo apparently should never be straight, but should always be held on an angle with respect to the center line.

I was exhausted after practice. The ride home on the train is an hour (standing) and after that, the walk seems to take forever. It doesn't help that my backpack is laden down with five pounds of clothes and ten pounds of sweat! Grooooosssssss.

By the way, Namitome sensei was in last month's Kendo Nippon; Ide sensei is in this month's.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Back in the SWING of things... Get It? GET IT?

Hey. My 2nd week back, and I managed to go to both iaido and jodo already. Wow! I had a very nice jodo practice on Wednesday. Everyone was happy to see me again, and vice versa. Practice was quite intense and they were laughing because I was the only one sweating profusely. (They still find this May weather, 20 - 25 degrees, to be quite chilly.) I met two of the teachers who are apparently going to Guelph next week, a married couple called the Moris. They seem really nice and very patient teachers.

I got a lot of correction on my hikiotoshi. I guess that's to be expected since I seem to learn a different way to do it every time I turn around! Mr. Mori explained that most every teacher has a different way to do it. His way seemed almost like Kaminoda's way; you end up with the jo on the left side of the body, left hand by the left thigh but pushing forward, the tip low and the knees bent rather deeply. Hmmm. Not sure if I really "like" it but that doesn't matter -- I'll do it that way until somebody tells me different.

Kind of a funny/embarrassing incident: I was practicing with a young (30-something) guy who must have weighed 110 pounds soaking wet. But he was very fast and really beat me up when I was uchidachi. So we did shi-uchi kotai, and I did a few waza... then it was time for number 11, Midari Dome. I did makiotoshi and flipped his sword right into the floor; he staggered back and came in again. I did tai atari and sent him sprawling into the wall, at which point he almost fell over, but he came back again and I did hikiotoshi, which almost spun him around and into the wall again, face first this time. I honestly didn't mean to do any of it, but he was just so damn light, I couldn't help it... I apologized to him, but that just makes the situation worse, actually. Anyway, I don't think he held a grudge.

The next day was iaido practice. It's a very different atmosphere there. The sensei practices by himself, and doesn't offer any correction; one of the senior students (5th or 6th dan) occasionally wanders around and helps people. But otherwise, you're basically on your own, and I must say it really shows. Many people have a lot of bad habits that could easily be fixed, I think, if somebody would just tell them. Oh well. I'm thinking that it will be worth my time to go and see Kaneda Sensei from time to time, even if it does take 1.5 hours each way. On a packed train. Poor little me!

(Actually, the train situation is pretty bad, to be honest. Coming back from jo practice on the busiest train I have ever experienced was horrible - I was already exhausted, stinky, and dehydrated. I can only imagine what it'll be like in July! Best not to think ahead too much.)