Monday, October 18, 2010


I haven't written a blog post in a while. I haven't really felt up to it. A little over a month ago, my father died unexpectedly. Being in Japan made things more complicated, and I had to decide whether or not to go home to Canada. For a number of reasons, I decided not to go back, and tried to carry on with normal life here.
A few days after learning of my dad's death, I went to the Western Tokyo Iaido Tournament. I had been asked to attend as a judge in the lower-dan divisions, and also as a competitor. Judging was fairly nerve-wracking because of the pressure not to mess up any time aspect of the etiquette, as every single thing you do is dictated by some rule or other. In addition, it is very tiring being a judge. You can't allow your attention to relax or your mind to wander for even a few seconds. And even watching very closely, there were still a number of instances where I just couldn't decide. Many of the competitors were university students who had probably started iaido only a few months or perhaps a year ago, and to be perfectly honest, the majority of them were making a lot of mistakes. It often came right down to the final etiquette and I thought, "Well, which one do I choose? They are totally neck-and-neck. Okay, I'll choose whoever has the nicest closing etiquette..." And then, after you raise your flag, you see the look of dejection on the face of the loser, and want to tell them, "Honestly, I didn't want to have to judge against you. Don't take it so hard, kid..."
After a full morning of judging on and off it was lunch time. Quite a few of the students I had officiated for walked by as I was eating my bento lunch, and bowed or said hello. Pretty soon, it was time for us to compete. As one of the youngest 5-dans, I was stuck out there in the first round of the elimination tournament. I felt very self-conscious for a couple reasons. First, I couldn't sit in seiza because my knees were hurting too much. Secondly, I had gotten permission to wear tabi during competition, mainly because it was not a very large or important tournament. Both of these facts made people sit up and think, "Oh, what's this now?" when I went out.
Well, it was pretty awful - certainly one of the worst showings I've made in a long time. My first technique, Mae, was absolutely dull and shaky and weak. My mind was blank with nerves and I don't remember the other techniques we were told to do, but I do remember that we ended with #9, Soete-zuki. As I stepped back to do chiburi, my left foot slipped a bit and I staggered. Even the rank beginners I had been judging had managed to keep their balance, but I was about to fall over. I lost 3 flags to zero.
After the event, I felt (imagined?) that the students had lost what small amount of respect they had for me. I could almost feel them shaking their heads and thinking, "THIS guy was judging US?" It felt really awful.
Most of us continue with something because we feel we're good at it, or because we feel we're making progress, or because it makes us feel good. I didn't feel any of that. I felt like quitting iaido completely.
A few days later, I regrouped and realized that I was being a big baby. I resolved to just practice harder, starting with pushing myself a little bit and trying to get back into seiza. At the next practice, I was doing techniques from kind of a "half seiza" where I would leave my toes supporting my weight. This kept me from putting quite as much pressure through my knee joint.
About 10 techniques in, I did koryu Uke Nagashi. Just as I stepped out with the left foot and put my weight on that leg (sword overhead to block) I heard a loud snap from inside my knee (others in the dojo turned and looked) and was immediately in agony. I could barely walk out of the dojo. I managed to change clothes and took a taxi to Keio University Hospital. They took some x-rays and told me I had sprained my knee. (Thanks.) The next day, I went to an orthopedic clinic about 500 meters from my house. It took all of my effort to walk there and back. The doctor told me I had injured my medial collateral ligament, and it would be about a month's recovery time.
It has been a month and a half, and I am still not better. My knee is still obviously swollen, and a friend in the rehabilitation business tells me that it may also be a ruptured meniscus. Between this injury and my arthritis (the doctors showed me some of the floating bone chips in my knee and the ever-growing bone spurs) I am imagining a future without seiza or tate-hiza.
Frankly, I think that suwari-waza are the heart and soul of iaido. There are some people who do iai from standing, and more power to them, but for me, it is somehow not the same, and I can't get very excited about the future.

Loss of a parent.
Loss of a tournament.
Loss of respect.
Loss of physical freedom.
Loss of motivation.

It all sounds very melancholy, and self-pitying, and I know that. I'm blowing things out of perspective, and I know that too. Just look at the above list, and some of the things are laughably trivial. But at the moment, it all comes across as part of one big downhill slide.
In a way, though, writing this Blog is therapy. I have waited a while to write again, and I'm already starting to feel better about things. If anything, continuing to write this Blog is my way of reassuring myself that I'm going to continue with the martial arts.


Blogger ted said...

Sorry to hear about your father, Jeff. I lost mine 10 years ago, and it still stings sometimes.

I also had a knee issue (Baker cyst) and was unable to sit seiza for 9 months. I recommend rolling up a blanket and placing the roll behind your knees as you sit in seiza for 10 minutes or so. Every few days, try sitting on a smaller roll, eventually lowering yourself back to a normal seiza. Of course, if you feel any pain, stop immediately, and try again a few days later.

I did this for about two months, and have no problem sitting seiza now.

Miss you and the fellas in Japan. American life don't live up to the hype...

7:28 AM  
Blogger Guelph First said...

"If you're going through hell, keep going."
Winston Churchill

5:29 PM  
Blogger Hiten said...

I'm sorry to hear that it's been down hill for a while.

I've been keeping up with this blog for the last year, and it's been great. I love seeing the photos from taikai and hearing about your training experiences.

While I'm just in college now, I've had both knee and elbow pain/issues in the past from doing Battodo. It's not fun. I found The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook to be extremely helpful myself, and it might be able to ease your pain.

I'm looking forward to when I have the opportunity to get over to Japan to train after graduating. In the meantime, I envy your ability to study these arts at their source.

1:51 AM  
Blogger Ka Muso Kai said...

Hi Jeff.
You're not being a big baby. You're being.
You're human.
Suffering is life and that you are doing, especially now.
Never mind the suck it up crap.
Feel it fully, embrace it, keep reflecting on it like you are.
And keep moving as best you can - movement will help you...

8:09 PM  
Blogger Jakub Kopczyk said...

I'm very sorry for your loss.

As for the tournament, you should not worry that much, if anyone had "oh, I'm better then him, why was he judging me" moment, then they don't grasp the full meaning of budo yet. They can't understand that one mistake won't erase all the hard work you put into years of training.
As for the knees, it's always very sad to hear, that because of injuries people have to stop training. But you don't have to be in dojo all the time to train, working on your health and trying to go back to dojo is the hardest traning of all. And I hope that you're gonna win this battle!

Best regards,

1:54 AM  

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