Saturday, November 14, 2009

Recent events

I've been falling behind with my posts lately. There are two main reasons for this: one is that I could be going through a period of listlessness and can't be bothered to write anything. The other is that I'm busy with something and just don't have much time to write. Fortunately this time, it's the second reason.
I have quite a few things I wanted to mention. One is that I think I've fixed the problem with my cut. (Readership: "Hurray! We were all losing sleep over that!") Sensei had been watching me with a sense of annoyance. I thought it was just annoyance at me for being unable to fix my swing, but now I'm guessing that he was a bit annoyed with himself for being unable to get to the root of my problem. A couple weeks ago, he got me to change the timing of my footwork with the cut. Before, I was doing a kind of 1 .. 2-3 timing, which means the front foot steps, I cut, and the back foot comes up at almost the same time. He tried to get me to do everything at the same time - not possible, in fact, but that's the feeling. I couldn't get it at all, until I started imagining I was doing kendo. Then I got it.
One thing I've learned since I've come to Japan is that there isn't one way to do things. You could be forgiven for thinking so in the west, at least for a while. You have a seminar, and a bigwig comes over and tells you, "This is THE way it is done." You silently think to yourself, "But X. Sensei told us to do it THIS way last year ... but I guess it's changed. Okay." The fact is, though, that not only does Seitei iai change from year to year, but it changes depending on whom you are learning from. This is a good thing, to some extent: everybody has their own way of doing iaido. Why should there be ONE way to do everything? If you analyze the way the top dozen golf pros hold their clubs, I'm sure you'll find a couple who do it differently than the others. But if they can all hit the ball roughly the same distance, with the same accuracy, who's to say who's right? Same for tennis, same for baseball, same for iaido.
The bummer part is that most teachers think they're right, and so whenever I have changed teachers, I have gotten some criticism that runs directly counter to what somebody else has just told me. Oh well; it keeps me from getting complacent, and that is a good thing, despite all my whining. All of this is just my long-winded way of saying that I've fixed my cut, for now, but when I change dojos again in the future, I'll very quickly be working to fix it again.

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I was thinking the other day at jodo practice about "winning" and "losing". Even though it's already decided that the Jo side always defeats the Tachi, there is a dynamic within the kata that means that there is a "real winner", I think. I don't want to overstate this, nor do I want to make anybody think that the point of Jodo is to be the winner. But sometimes it's hard to ignore. You know you've "won" the kata when:
-you're the tachi side, but your kiai overwhelms that of your partner; his kiai is weak and unconvincing
-you make your partner blink a few times with a look of, "What just happened?" on his face
-you have to slow your movements down because your partner wasn't ready to block the strike you were preparing
-when you're on the Jo side and you drive your partner back almost into the wall; then he goes to step back and bumps into the wall because he forgot the wall was there, he was so focused on getting away from you
-when your partner can't look you in the eyes
-when you're on the Jo side and you almost knock the bokuto out of your partner's hands, and he is clearly thrown off-balance, mentally, by this
-conversely, when you're on the Tachi side, and your partner does a strike which doesn't work, or has little effect

Basically, I'm not saying that your goal is to beat your partner up - although there seem to be many people in the Jodo world who think so! But if you can maintain an unperturbable mental state, while throwing your opponent off-balance mentally, then you've won.

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The "Dai To-Ken Ichi" or "Big Sword Market" was held in Tokyo a couple weeks ago. I went to this event a few years before, and it was like Shangri-La; more swords in one place than I could ever imagine. And not only swords, but spears, naginata, matchlock guns, suits of armour - it was absolutely incredible.
Well, as often happens with me, I forgot when it happens, exactly, and so it had been a few years since I checked it out. About a month ago, I was at the Japanese Sword Museum. I met a gentleman from Australia who asked me if I was going to the sword market, and I confessed that I had no idea when it was happening. As it turned out, it was the following weekend, so I made plans to go. I think I offended him, though, because when he asked me, "So, do you study swords?" I told him that, while I thought swords were beautiful in their own right, I could never imagine spending hours and hours studying who was the student of whom, and learning what combinations of nioi and nie and jigane and hamon were representative of what school. When he heard that, he said, "Well," and turned on his heel and walked away.
But at least I learned when the event was. Here are a few pictures:

I'm guessing that there were 30 dealers or more, so imagine this scene multiplied by 30. Enough swords to make your head spin, and each sword worthy of hours of study and examination. Of course, barbarian that I am, I just wanted to pick them up and swing them.
I was looking for swords in my "length range", i.e., swords that I could use for iaido. I use a 2.7, so I was looking for swords over 2.5, basically. It's kind of a funny thing that swords look a lot longer when they are out of their furniture. I kept thinking, "Oh, that one looks pretty long!" but when I checked the fine print, it was only a 2.4 or something. Nosyudo had a fantastic 2.64 sword by Kanefusa, stunning hamon, only $8,000 or so. I had to give it back because I was salivating all over it.

A few suits of armour, too. Strangely, the armour was quite a bargain compared to the swords. I suppose it is just the fact that armour is large and difficult to store, and so not in demand? I think the above suits were going for about $20,000 each. That seems like a lot, until you realize the sheer number of swords which were going for $30,000 and up. I think the same principle is in effect when you consider that small, compact objects like netsuke and inro have been commanding high prices for much longer than swords. In fact, tsuba used to be the valuable parts of swords, until collectors in the west learned more about the blades. I think this is because tsuba are small and easy to store, and the workmanship is easier to appreciate. I dunno.
So anyway, my dream sword can be mine for just $8,000. Guess I'd better start saving my pennies.