Via Namitome Sensei, I got the contact information for an 8th dan Hanshi iai sensei in Fukushima named Tanaka Sensei. He in turn put me in touch with someone who practices in Fukushima but lives in the same town as me, Mr. Kimura, who offered to drive me to practice. So, last night, I got picked up at my house and off we went to practice. Tanaka Sensei is extremely nice and had a lot of pointers for me. Usually, you feel pretty lucky to get one or two pointers, but he had a bunch for me! It was great. So I don't forget them, and in case they apply to you, here they are.
1. I was sitting too tall. (This is mostly because my knees, thighs, and ankles are all stiff, because I don't stretch enough.) Tanaka sensei told me that it was okay to sit in seiza with my big toes 2 to 3 inches apart, and also to roll my ankles outward so that my butt is sitting between my heels, not on top of them. This will help me lower my koshi and give me a more solid foundation to sit on. I hope the added twist on my ankles doesn't screw my knees up.
2. When drawing the sword, pinch the mune between the thumb and forefinger as you draw. This makes it easier to put power into the tip when you do nukitsuke. He also said that it was okay to pause very, very slightly at the point of sayabanari. This contradicts what I've heard elsewhere, but I suppose I can see both points of view.
3. When I was doing furikaburi, my elbows were too wide and my jodan was too open. I have to make sure to bring my elbows down and forewards, closing my armpits as I cut.
4. My finishing position after o-chiburui was wrong; it should be 45 degrees to the front. I was too far back.
5. He advised me to do noto in a much more relaxed way, not stabbing backwards with the tip, or coming up and over, but letting the sword move around in a very natural way. Then make sure you use the left hand enough, but pulling the saya back, and pushing the saya onto the sword as you sink down.
6. He basically dismantled my #12 Nuki Uchi. Now, I am trying to do it very simply without thinking about it at all. Just step back while drawing the sword and raising it directly overhead. The main thing is that it has to be straight forward and back, one handed, before you grip with the other hand and cut.
7. He also tried to tell me something about the tsuka-ate on #10. He was showing me that it was identical to doing a kote strike in kendo, in that your body movement is very heavy but the actual strike with your arms is light. I still don't understand that point yet.
Anyway, it was a very good practice. It's always good to hear different points of view, but in the end, I don't think they are so different. When I told Tanaka sensei that my teacher was Haruna Sensei from Okayama, he laughed and said, "He was our teacher too!" I guess the group in Okayama and the group in Fukushima are basically "brothers". I thought I could see something of Haruna Sensei in Tanaka Sensei's iai ... maybe that's one way that people live on, through other people they have taught or influenced...