A few weeks back was the central seminar for the Tokyo area. By doing a very rough count of how many people were sitting in each row (when Sensei were demonstrating various fine points) and how many rows there were, I would guess that there were over 300 people there. Which makes for very close quarters when doing kihon, for example!
It was quite cold in the gym (it being the middle of January) and I was a bit annoyed, I must admit, to see maybe 10% of the people there wearing tabi. (I have been told in the past that I can't wear tabi when doing Iaido.) Now I can imagine some objections:
-this was Jodo, not Iaido
-this was only a seminar, not an official event like a grading or a competition
-most of the people wearing tabi were older men and women, who have to take care of their health
To which I would offer the following rebuttals:
-both Jodo and Iaido are done under the Kendo Federation (which allows people to demonstrate in white tabi in formal events, and allows kendoka to compete in partial tabi, and allows 8th-dans to just do whatever they want)
-there shouldn't be a different standard of uniform depending on what kind of event it is; I would favour more relaxed rules across the board rather than more strict rules
-if it's okay to wear tabi for health reasons, then how about safety reasons? (i.e., I am waving around a huge sword and would prefer not to slip and fall and stab myself or someone else, thank you very much!)
Anyway, I'll get off my soapbox (for the time being). The practice itself was interesting, although there was an awful lot of talking and demonstrating by Sensei, and not a lot of trying it out ourselves. I guess they have a lot of information to get across and a limited amount of time to do it. But from the standpoint of an educator, it is always better to show, and then have people do it themselves, not merely to tell people how it should be done. Oh well.
There seem to have been further changes to the way that upper-level gradings will be carried out. Last year (or was it 2 years ago?) they introduced the new way that 7th- and 8th-dans will grade, including all the tiny fiddly details like where you will put your sword, and how you will kneel to put your weapon down, and enter the court, and bow, and so on. It was all very complicated and it seems to have gotten worse, if you ask me.
As for the practice itself, ironically, I didn't do very much jodo! And that was fine. Kurogo Sensei from Hiroshima took our group. He is an 8th-dan kyoshi in Jodo, but he joked that his Iai is better than his Jo (so perhaps he is 8th-dan hanshi in Iaido?). He wanted to tell us about the importance of doing the tachi side properly, so he took us through it, starting right with the basics of how to hold the sword. He stressed that, if you don't constantly examine how you hold the sword, your tenouchi will never become correct, and tenouchi is one of the most important concepts in swordsmanship.
Likewise, he stressed the importance of correct kamae. He said that sometimes he would stand in front of a mirror for an hour, checking his kamae. We actually did this, but for only about 5 minutes at a time. It is exhausting! He led us up to a "perfect" chudan-no-kamae, and then we held kamae for about 5 minutes, all the while he was taking us through a kind of "stream of consciousness" self-checklist. "Is there tension in my back heel? Is my back foot straight forward? Is my left leg taut but slightly bent at the knee? Is my left hip engaged? Are my buttocks tensed but not squeezing? Is my lower back arched in? Is my stomach tight? Is my left hand a fist away from my abdomen?" and so on. Then he had us go into hidari-jodan, and we repeated the procedure.
After moving through all the kamae, he had us switch rapidly between kamae, and check at every stage that we were doing it properly. I can't tell you how valuable this was! The tachi side is the side that controls the kata, to a large extent, so if tachi is not performed properly, the jo side can't perform properly. I am sure we have all had the experience of doing jo against a tachi side who really knows what he/she is doing; in these cases, everything just works. And then you have the times when you go up against somebody who thinks he knows what he's doing on tachi, but in fact, everything is a little bit wrong: his targets are wrong, or his distance is wrong, or he's cutting with the wrong part of the sword, or coming in at an impossible angle. And then try as you might, you feel like it's your fault - the jo's fault - that the kata isn't working.
Another interesting and exhausting practice that we did was metsuke practice. We did this in pairs as we went through the partner kihon. The idea is simple: don't take your eyes off your opponent's eyes for even an instant, even when performing several repetitions. There is no "relaxation time" between runs where it is acceptable to look at the floor or down at your hands or at the clock. Sensei had us staring intently into each other's eyes for minutes at a time, and it is mentally exhausting! But I can see how it would develop a high degree of concentration and quite possibly, an intimidating metsuke (I have heard that this is a real factor in kendo; not only do high-ranking sensei have an intense pressure coming from their eyes, but they never take their eyes off of yours, and take in all of your various eye-flickers. Yes, you looked at his kote a second before you tried to strike it, but he knew what you were going to do before you even did it, as if he had telepathy!)
Both of these practices (taking kamae and holding it, in front of a mirror if possible, and then fixing every small detail; and practicing not taking your eyes off of your opponent's eyes, even for an instant) are things that everyone can do, so I recommend trying them at home or at your next practice with a partner.