Thursday, September 29, 2005


I started back at the Kashiwa city Iaido club. The crazy guy (the one who got all drunk and was tearing into me last semester... from now on I'll call him "Jerky") came up to me and the first thing he said was, "Jeff! Have you gained weight? If you get any fatter you won't be able to play kendo because you won't fit into your Do!" Maybe he's just one of these unfortunate souls who are unable to self-censor...

Anyhow, it was a nice practice, and I got a lot of good pointers. Unfortunately, they all seemed to be niggling little details, and if you're working on overall feeling, or cuts, or seme, or zanshin, (or in my case, just trying to get back to it after a month or so away) then you're not usually in the mood to concentrate on tiny little details. But... I'll file them away for future reference and try to work them into my techniques as best I can.

After practice, we lined up according to rank. Now that I am a full, paying member of the dojo, they let me occupy my proper place, which is (amazingly) fourth from the top. Jerky was down with the beginners. Strange how I assumed that he must have had a high rank (despite his inability to handle his sword) from the way he spoke to me. There's a lesson in there, somewhere.

I am getting a bit worried about my sword, which acquired even more rust while it was in the "care" of one of my students over the summer. Actually, I didn't give him specific instructions except to store them with a moisture-absorber. This prevented mold from growing on the handles of both swords, but my shinken got a bit rustier, unfortunately. I may need to find a polisher - I wonder what the minimum cost would be. It seems that it's all priced according to the rank of the polisher, so maybe I can find some guy who sharpens knives and scissors for a living and does swords in his spare time...

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Zen and the Martial Arts

As I've said before (I just don't seem to learn) it is a really bad idea to do nothing physical for 2 months and then to jump right back into practice. I don't think we had a hard session last night but I was exhausted before too long. Morii sensei had me working on Hikiotoshi and the final strike in Ran-ai (I don't know if it has a name...?) He said I was doing it too slow, and he was quite right; I was doing the strike at geriatric speed. So he had me doing it over and over again for quite a while, striking as hard and fast as I could, and stopping an inch short of a big pile of mats.

I have read that Zazen (seated meditation) is not about having an empty mind and thinking about nothing, because even rocks can do that. This writer was saying that Zazen is really the act of continuously pulling yourself back to that state of empty-mindedness after your mind has seized on some passing thought and drifted away with it.

Well, last night I was experiencing kind of the reverse; I was physically exhausted and mentally in a strange state as well... there were times when (at the risk of sounding idiotic) I felt like I was the jo, and I was the target. Pure zen stuff, right? But then I would think, oh wow, what's happening to me? And ruin the whole no-mind kind of thing. I kept jarring myself out of that nice mental state with my own awareness of my mental state...

(And by the way, no I haven't been experimenting with any illicit substances lately!)

In other news, I might be able to try for my 4-Dan in Jodo this October. Keeping my fingers crossed!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Ahhhh, Romantic Japan

I'm reading an excellent book called "Samurai William" about William Adams, the first Englishman to come to Japan. He was a pilot aboard a Dutch trading vessel that came to Japan in 1600. Eventually, he came to be a very trusted advisor to the Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and his story was fictionalized in the novel, "Shogun". He was, however, a very real person and he lived part of his life in Hirado, a small town in Nagasaki where I also lived for 2 years on the JET Program. He and the other Englishmen who eventually established a trading house on the island left behind some very interesting accounts of life during this period, that should give us second thoughts about how great it would be if we could only go back in time to the glorious Age of the Samurai! (That Trans-Dimensional Portal Kim is always mentioning...) For example:

"[Captain] Saris might have had more success had he employed Japanese punishment which, he soon discovered, was as brutal as it was severe. When three local men started a street brawl, King Foyne [local daimyo Mastuura] ordered their summary execution. When this had been carried out, all the able-bodied men of the town 'came to try the sharpenesse of their katanas upon the corps[es] so that before they left off they had hewn them all three into pieces as small as a man's hand.'
The casual violence of the Japanese never ceased to amaze newcomers. It was common practice for samurai to test their swords on criminals, hacking at their corpses 'until the wretched body is chopped into mincemeat'. They were also in the habit of stitching the bodies together so that the same exercise could be repeated again and again. 'They often sew up bodies which have been cut up by swords,' observed the Jesuit, Joao Rodrigues, who said that 'the delight and pleasure which they feel in cutting up bodies is astonishing.'
King Foyne was as inexorable as any other Japanese lord. He governed his fiefdom with a razor-sharp sword, crushing disobedience and refusing mercy. [Captain] Cocks's men were no strangers to the spectacle of public beheadings and grisly disembowelments - for they were a common occurrence in London - yet they were surprised to discover that Adams was not exaggerating the inflexibility of Japanese justice: even minor transgressions were capital offences. Worse still, the sentence was inviolable, and King Foyne would not 'revoke or mittigate the severitie of it'. Once judgement was passed, the punishment was immediate. The victim was instructed to kneel and the executioner cut off his head. Then, the head and body were chopped into tiny pieces.
Cocks and his men were horrified by such violence and watched in dismay as young children were executed for minor crimes. In their first months, they had been too nervous to intervene. But, when they were more familiar with their new home, they began to lodge complaints with King Foyne. On a December afternoon in 1615, Cocks learned that 'a boy of sixteen yeares old was [to be] cut in peeces for stealing a littell boat and carrying it to another island'. Cocks felt that the death sentence was unduly harsh and 'sent [an appeal] to the king to beg his life'. He also despatched a message to the executioner, asking him to refrain from killing the boy until he had learned of King Foyne's reaction. The executioner, infuriated by the English petition, was further angered when he learned that Foyne was intending to pardon the lad. Without further ado, he unsheathed his sword and 'put him to death before the pardon came, cutting him in many mammocks'.
Life was cheap in Hirado, and death was so commonplace that the local populace were untroubled by the sight of corpses lying in gutters or fields. Cocks was rather more sensitive, and such horrific spectacles would remain for ever etched on his mind. One day, he was enjoying a walk on the edge of the town when he 'fownd a young girl of some eleven or twelve years of age, dead on the backside under the walle [of a little lodge]'. He was disgusted to see 'dogges feeding on her, having eaten both her legges and her lower parts'. He was unable to discover her identity or the cause of death, but noted that 'it is thought some villen had ravished her and after killed her, or else, being a slave, her master had killed her upon some displeasure and cast her out to be eaten of dogges, an ordenary matter in these partes.'"

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Ide Katsuhiko Sensei

Ide Katsuhiko Sensei of Hiroshima passed away suddenly following an automobile accident in early September. He was a Kendo 7dan, Iaido 8dan, and Jodo 8dan who visited Guelph during our May seminar on a number of occasions. He was an All-Japan Iaido champion whose technical skill and strong presence was immediately striking. He taught us many valuable things but the one that sticks with me most is his dedication to hard training - he said that, when he was preparing for a tournament, he would always do at least 1000 cuts a day to improve his technique. I have probably never done 1000 cuts in one day - so there is something to strive for. He will be missed by those who knew him.

Update: A bit more info about Ide Sensei from Trevor. Ide Sensei was the one who beat Haruna Sensei in the 1988 All-Japan championships before Haruna Sensei won them in '89. Ide Sensei received his 8th Dan in May of 1989, and Trevor suspects he was the first winner of the 8th dan taikai in Hakkone. Truly a very accomplished martial artist.