Thursday, January 07, 2010

New Year's

We had our iaido end of the year party in mid-December. It was an all-you-can-drink affair, so everyone had a good time. At Japanese parties, you are supposed to get up at some point and make the rounds, visiting each person in turn, pouring them a drink, having a chat, and then moving on to the next person. It lets you show respect to people, by pouring their drinks for them, and it's a way to mix the party up, and let you talk to everyone. I usually don't do it, because I'm usually so wedged into my seat that I can't get up easily and move around. I figure I'm also exempt from this Japanese cultural thing because I'm a foreigner (Yes, sometimes I use those cultural prejudices to my advantage!)
Anyway, it was a fun time, but before we got to any eating or drinking, we had to listen to a long speech from Sensei. He gave the speech that all Sensei everywhere have to give at least once in a while: you're all lazy, none of you practices hard enough, you're not training as hard as you should be. I was especially shamed because he specifically said, "Training once a week is nothing more than just playing around." Given that I train once a week in TWO arts, it was doubly shaming. I resolved to start training more often ... a nice, vague resolution that I'm sure I will stick to.
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I was talking about the topic of tradition with a few people; kind of re-hashing the things I was talking about in previous posts. On one hand, I think people essentially have the right to change whatever they want, but sometimes I think the decisions people make are wrong. When I admitted that a few of the comments to my posts had really pushed my buttons, one friend told me, that was "because you're a part owner of the art. All who practice an art for more than a couple of years become owners. Who else owns it?" I had to admit that he's completely right; we own these arts jointly, so when someone changes something, if it's a change you don't personally endorse, it is hard to accept.

When it comes to koryu arts, you either do it Soke's way, or you are a rogue. Or, you create your own school and set yourself up as the Soke. People do it all the time, with differing degrees of justification, and all the internet-arguing in the world won't make a difference.

The other option is to have a committee that decides what is right and what is wrong. This is much clearer, but you will still have some pretty wild differences between people's interpretations of what they just saw demonstrated and heard explained by the committee. And, you have to deal with annual changes from the committee itself.

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I was talking to another friend who's a kendoka. I was saying that it's nice that kendo is practiced in just ONE way, but as soon as I said that, I remembered that there are some groups who are trying to change kendo in one way or another. Some groups want to change kendo enough that it could become an Olympic sport. Other groups are trying to make kendo closer to kenjutsu, by allowing other kamae, or by opening up other targets. My friend said that he hated all that stuff; that he didn't want to come across as dogmatic, but as far as he was concerned, kendo is a complete system - there is absolutely no need to change it or modify it, because all the benefits that kendo has are already present, and that making changes to it will serve no purpose. Opening up new targets (the legs, for example) would turn it into chambara. If you've ever seen a good kendo match, there is an amazing conversation happening between the two kendoka, expressed via seme (pressure) and the control of the centerline. The interplay is subtle, but it is definitely there, and one tiny, almost imperceptible cue is enough to make both players explode into an attack. On the other hand, chambara is usally (to quote my friend) "a shit-show" with both sides making wild, opportunistic grab shots. The fastest player wins, and it's basically that simple. If kendo is an argument between skilled debaters, chambara is a shouting match on the Jerry Springer show. "Changing" kendo is not going to improve it; it's fine as it is, so let's leave well enough alone.