Wednesday, December 04, 2013

The More You Know

Gotta love those NBC public service announcements!The Iaido practice last Wednesday night was another lonely one.  Jim had some other commitments, so he wasn’t able to make it to practice.  There are only two people that attend Iaido practice on Wednesday nights, this is actually quite a common occurrence (man, we should really get more people!).

I do admit that it has been about two weeks since I did anything Iaido related, other than watching Youtube videos.  I injured my left leg and foot during Kendo practice by using it harder than I really should have.  I think all I need to do is get massages more often on my leg to loosen up my muscles since I feel a lot of knots that tie up quite a few things.  Then, since Thanksgiving was last week, I had my parents over so I was using my time entertaining them.

It’s great to have someone more experienced to help fix various problems with my kata performance, but it’s just as nice to be able to take some time to have some uninterrupted time to work on some personal issues that I want to work on.  Lately, I’ve been performing kata two ways.  First, I would just work on the technical stuff, such as making sure my hasuji was good and performing enough saya-biki.  After doing that a few times, I would switch to performing the kata with more mental feeling behind the movements to not only apply the technical stuff to the kata, but to put more feeling behind each individual movement.  I did a mix of Seitei and Shoden kata with little rhyme or reason for performing each one.

The great thing about an art like Iaido is that the overall basic techniques are the same, but just applied differently.  For instance, doing nukitsuke for “mae” is performed differently than the nukitsuke for “San-po Giri,” but the overall concepts of saya-biki, hasuji (blade angle), and body posture are the same.  This allows me to approach the same technique from different angles and better understand the backgrounds behind each technique.

This makes me think about a post I recently read on the Budo Bum blog.  In this particular post, the author was talking about his thoughts on being able to do many techniques and being able to do a few techniques well.  There is a certain allure to being able to move on to the next step, which is commonly learning about the newest technique but, after doing a Judo for a while (or even just growing older), he started to appreciate the inner workings of the techniques he does know.  There’s a lot more to the physical aspects like angles, heights and necessary force, but adding the mental aspects to everything literally adds a whole new world to what he knew.  At that point, he began to take more value in learning more about the things he already knew than just learning more techniques on top of what he already knows.

I consider myself to be mostly in the category of being enamored by being taught the latest Iaido kata.  It could be easy to just say that it’s due to my age and/or experience level, but I think it runs a little deeper than that.  Learning a new technique seems to be the easiest way to feel that I’m progressing in Iaido.  When I’m introduced to a new kata, I feel like Jim has said that I performed the previous technique well enough to move on to the next kata.  With that thought in mind, I can really see why people advertise and emphasize the amount of techniques one can learn in their marital art style and how it can be beneficial to attendance and retention rates.  It’s easy to sell something that’s so tangible and easily understandable to the public at large.  I could go deeper into this subject, but it’s not really the point of this post, and I feel that I should do more research and introspection on the subject to even begin to understand what I want to say.

At the same time, I can understand the value that I get from being able to perform the stuff I already know better than I did before class started.  The source of this sentiment is likely from the fact that I also do Kendo, have been doing Kendo for five years longer than I have done Iaido, and that simply, Kendo has fewer techniques, so I’ve been forced to be able to better my performance of the few techniques that are available in physical and mental ways.  I feel like that this is where the real magic of martial arts comes from.  It’s one thing to say that I am X-rank, so that means that I know #-techniques, but it’s another thing to say that I was able to learn more about Seitei “mae” and be able to examine and perform the kata better than when I walked into the dojo.  Since Iaido is mostly done with imaginary opponents, that measure for me is feeling more comfortable with each technique I do and be able to perform it more effortlessly than before.  There are actually sets of kenjustu kata, but I don’t really know much about those, but I certainly would love to know more about them!

Again, it could be age, or it could be my Iaido experience level, but I feel like I have a lot of years left before I really start to not care about the number of techniques I know.  Maybe it’s simply when I learn all of the kata available in Muso Shinden Ryu, or it could be after I reach a certain age or experience level to where I feel overwhelmed with improving on what I already know before I start to shift my thinking.  Maybe my sentiments will change years in the future after I get older and learn more about Iaido, but I feel like I’m within the range of having a decent enough thought process to these martial arts I’m doing.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

2012: A Year In Review

Happy New Year everyone!  Or, as they say in Japan, 開けましておめでとうございます皆さん!(Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu minna san!).  I thought that I would take some time to think about how my Kendo and Iaido training has gone this year.  Unfortunately, I am dealing with the flu right now.  But hey, the good news is that I get at least an extra day off from work!

The first big thing that happened with Kendo last year was that I got to organize the Spring and Fall promotion exams for the ECUSKF.  Since I was new to all of this, there were several mistakes that were made along the line for both of the exams, but I’m taking each mistake as a lesson for next time to make sure that everything runs smoother.  Actually, I’m in the throes of planning the next Spring exam as we speak.  Since the planning for the exam is starting earlier, I hope that everything goes much smoother than last time, when there was only a month to plan everything and get the application forms out.

The second big achievement last year was that I got my 3rd Dan after my 3rd attempt!  Unlike the first two times, I felt like I was in total control over my technique to make sure that each strike was clean and on target.  There was that sense of calm after finishing my bouts of jigeiko as opposed to the sense of dread and panic about my performance.  Now I get to spend the next three years improving myself for my 4th Dan test.

For now, I’ve been really working on my seme.  Of course, it’s much easier said than done because that’s when sparring becomes less about what you can do to the other person and more about what you can make the other person do.  This involves pressuring the opponent to give up their center for me to capitalize on either by flinching, or making them attack.  And then, it’s not enough to force them to attack you, but you must dictate where you want them to attack so you can counter-attack.  The good news is that, based on the comments that were given to me last Saturday, I’m well on my way to doing just that.  I just need to work on it more to see how I can make it part of my Kendo.

As for Iaido, I really don’t have too much to report on that.  I regularly go to practice and get corrected on things, but there really hasn’t been any big events that I attended last year.  The class size has remained small as it always has been, which has it’s good and bad points.  On one hand, I get ALL of the personal attention I could ever want since it’s mostly me and my sensei about 98% of the time.  On the other hand, having a larger group of people to practice with adds to the spirit of practice and makes things a little less lonely.  I sometimes do wonder how Iaido could be marketed to increase numbers.  Initial thoughts tell me that it’s nearly impossible to find such techniques (or we would have had larger classes a long time ago)

For the coming year, I’ll just continue practicing and improving on my technique.  On top of that, I need to work on putting some emphasis and meaning behind the strikes, which involves investigating what I am doing in the kata and thinking about the context of the situation at hand and how I would dispatch the enemy.  The good news is that, since most of it is left up to interpretation, there really isn’t a wrong answer to this.  But it does lead to some healthy discussions to how we feel each kata should be performed.  I would like to try and test again, but with travel expenses and room and board, it gets quite expensive to go across the country to get another kyu rank.  We’ll see, but I might have to sit out again and try to plan for next year or something.

A lot has gone in in the martial arts world for me last year.  While it was great and all, I think I will appreciate this relative break from the excitement.  There are the usual tournaments and practices, but I don’t have to worry about taking the promotion exam and I am starting to settle into my role as promotion exam organizer.  I could try to test again for Iaido sometime this year, but with travel being all expensive and me wanting to concentrate on the direction of my finances, it might be a little difficult to travel across the country to get another kyu rank.  Nothing is really set in stone, so anything can change.  There is the AUSKF nationals next year that I might try for, but all I need to do to prepare for that is train my mind and body like I always have and hope for the best.

Well, Happy New Year folks and good luck with whatever goals you have set for yourself!

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