It’s not a game (unless you treat it that way)

A few years ago fellow martial art blogger, The Stick Chick, wrote a post called, “I’m a LARPer (and I’m okay).”  The post compares Live Action Role Play with martial arts, and points out that because martial artists  are highly unlikely to encounter the situations we train for, we are not far off being LARPers ourselves.  I read the post when she published it, enjoyed it, and filed it to the back of my mind.

Fast forward four years.  I was at a Niten Ichi-ryu (Japanese swords) seminar and something was said to me that bought the LARPing post to the front of my mind once more.  Niten is an interesting thing to learn and doesn’t have the traditional attacker and defender approach that you see with many martial art techniques. One side (termed shidatchi) encourages the other side (uchidatchi) to attack, rather than passively wait for the blow.  When the attack comes shidatchi can defend and deliver a counter attack.  In other words, although they are “defending” shidatchi is the one instigating the technique.  But it doesn’t stop there!  (It’s a Japanese martial art, you can’t have simple.)  Uchidatchi is traditionally the higher level student, teaching shidatchi.  They are the ones who set the pace and the tone of the kata, at a level suitable for the lower level student.  So the whole thing relies on the interaction of two people.

What Niten relies on is both parties committing to what they are doing, and showing this through body language.  The aim is not to be aggressive, but to have the attitude of challenge (thank you to my Sensei for that wording).  If I’m shidatchi and act timidly then uchidatchi has no incentive to attack, so I can’t defend, and the technique is (as was said at the seminar) “a series of choreographed dance moves with no meaning.”  And on the other side if I’m uchidatchi, and I do a half-hearted sword cut, then why would shidatchi even bother to respond?  You don’t turn around and throw someone to the floor for tapping you in the shoulder, do you?

What we don’t do is go piling in at high speed, you can still challenge without the need for that.  We also adjust for the level we are doing things at.  My Sensei has 30 years training behind him.  On Monday our newest student had two hours behind him.  The rest of the dojo membership is somewhere in between.  When we train with each we adjust, so that the senior student is always slightly ahead of the junior student, helping pull them up to a new level rather than destroy them outright.  But we still need to show intent and purpose when we attack and defend else we are back to a series of choreographed dance moves.

So sorry Stick Chick (and I know your article was partly tongue-in-cheek, but so’s this response) but I feel if we consider ourselves LARPers then we are not treating our training partners with respect, we are not showing intent, and we stagnate in our techniques.  We run the risk of becoming sloppy, of doing things because they look cool rather than questioning how they work (and indeed if they do work).  I might never get into a sword fight outside the dojo, but inside the dojo I do and to think otherwise dishonours the tradition from which I am learning.

So train with intent folks, even if the only place you’re going to bash someone with a stick is in the dojo.



Posted in General observations, Humour, Other Blogs | Tagged , , ,

Developing the mental approach in response to an attack

I was delighted to read this article about one of my former aikido instructors, Sensei Danielle Smith.  She was recently promoted to the rank of 7th Dan by the International Hombu Dojo. This rank reflects her long dedication to learning and teaching aikido.  If you ever have the pleasure of training with her you find yourself encountering a small, very calm women.  At first glance you might think the people she is training with are being polite and falling over for her.  But if you are on the receiving end of her techniques that I can assure you that nothing could be further from the truth!

Sensei Smith has also passed on this calmness, this willingness to teach and the passion she has for akido to those in her dojo.  While I was at Aikido of Monterey it was wonderful to see children and young adults embracing and developing the principals of aikido.  The older children would help the younger ones, and they were always polite and kind to each other on the mat.  Such behaviour only comes about because an example in kind is being set by the adults.  The adults I trained with also were glad to pass on their love of this martial art and were inspiring and kind in their own ways.

Aikido is often seen as a non-effective martial art to those outside it.  And yes, in the early years what you learn can seem very stylised.  Aikido isn’t just about what the body does, its about developing the mind to be in that place to react in appropriate and calm manner when danger occurs.  It takes far longer to train the mind how to respond then the body.

Aikido differs to martial arts such as jjitsu or judo, which teach direct and sometimes aggressive responses.  I’m not saying this is wrong, it’s just another approach.

Aikido is non-aggressive, so I believe we’ll always have a significant role to play. People want to be aggressive usually out of fear; you can’t even have a conversation these days about politics or the economy without evoking a tremendous amount of fear.  Aikido definitely tries to break that cycle of violence – the feeling of needing to be physically damaging to someone else. In aikido, we don’t buy into the belief in the division that is in today’s society. We study forms, but the forms are to get in touch with our own connection and to be creative.

I have trained with senior people whose aikido is very direct, but they still retain that mental discipline that more confrontational martial arts lack.  It’s interesting to read that Sensei Smith urges us to take that mind set outside of the dojo and apply it to our everyday lives.  And where better to start with that approach than teaching the next generation of aikidoka?

Well done Danielle Smith on your promotion to 7th Dan.  Thank you for inspiring me and others in our aikido.

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What’s your motivation?

My car had to go to the garage for some repair work that ended up taking 24 days to do.  Thankfully the insurance provided a hire car for this period.  Now, I have an older Ford Focus that is comfortable to drive, but the hire car company provided me with a huge 4×4 white BMW mk4 automatic with 8 speed gear box.  Not my first choice of car, not even my 20th if I’m honest.  But it was a car and it got me to the places I needed to go, which was mostly the dojo.

The BMW was a lot higher up than my car, making me feel quite unstable every time I went around a corner.  (We have a lot of corners on UK roads.)  I grew to like the 8 speed gear box I don’t really need to go from 0 – 60 mph in under 5 seconds.  Apart from the digital radio and the heated seats (minor gimmicks, but nice ones) the rest of the car was horrible.  The pillars between the doors and windscreens blocked my vision whenever I needed to pull out and overtake on the motorway.  The car had that many alarms beeping at me it was a distraction to drive.  The dashboard flickered like I was in the West End.  In short, it failed to do what I wanted a car to do – be comfortable to drive.

Now here is what I did like.  The car was brand new, just 1000 miles on the clock.  I liked that people looked at it with a degree of admiration.  It felt a little bit special to be in charge of a car that had hardly any road time.  Never mind that I didn’t like the car, I was liking the attention it got.

Moving away from the cars and on to martial arts.  What’s your motivation for training in the style you do?  Learn something traditional, keep fit, develop new skills?  These are all admirable things.  I have said it before, but I’ll say it again.  I learn my martial arts because I find them fun, and because I get satisfaction in doing a technique well.  To a certain extent I am not fussed about my grade (though grading can be fun for checking out what you know under pressure).

I am cautious of the person who starts a martial art, “to become a black belt.”  That’s not learning a martial art for the joy of it.  That’s learning something in order to get attention.  Like that hire car I had.  And if you start a martial art with the only purpose in mind being that black belt, then like that car it’s going to be an uncomfortable ride.  There is nothing wrong with having a goal of reaching a certain level, but the journey is part the fun, so enjoy it!


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All women Aikido class

Our dojo has decided to host an all women’s Aikido class.  Why are we doing this?

Firstly, women are a minority in most martial arts schools.  Those of us that are training often wish there were more women to train with.  It’s not that we are frightened of the men, normally they are frightened of us!  It’s because we love what we do and we have felt and seen the benefits our martial art brings.  We want to share that joy with our fellow females!

By hosting this class we hope to attract new women who may have felt shy walking through the dojo door, dreading a room full of muscled men.  Then if they come along to the main class they can feel more at ease in the new environment.

Secondly, martial arts do differ slightly for women.  By bringing together a room full of women of different experiences we can share what has helped us and has probably never occurred to a male teacher.   This can be how to wear your gi and obi.  It can be how to take break-falls, our bone structure means there are minor differences in how to land safely.  It can how to deal with the odd man who thinks, “no women can put me in an arm-lock.”  (Oh yes we can!)  And it’s to show that we have just as much a range of styles – soft, fast, hard – as men!

If you know people living in north Wales, Chester or Manchester areas then feel free to share the information with them.


Posted in Courses, Training | Tagged , , ,

Reblog: “”Looking away from your opponent” in traditional forms

This is an interesting post from The Way of Least Resistance on focusing in on the imaginary opponent.  It ties in nicely with something that has been ticking in the back of my mind this week.


Posted in Other Blogs

Iaido ain’t slow!

It’s not fast either.

Recently I have had no less than three aikidoka say to me, “iaido – that’s slow, isn’t it?”  I assume they have all been on the same seminar and somebody imparted this pearl of wisdom, which they then thought to share with me.  Well, I would like to take this opportunity to correct them.  Or anyone else that thinks a martial art is slow, or fast, or any set speed.

Take a look at this video, showing one of the middle level techniques of Eishen Ryu, the style of sword work I practice.  (It’s only 30 seconds, you don’t need the sound.)

(This technique involves avoiding someone trying to grab your sword, before you cut them, free the weapon from their body and go for a second cut.)

There are fast bits in the video but there are also slow bits in which the swordsman almost pauses.  Importantly there is a sense of rhythm rather than a flat out single pace.  My Iaido instructors refer to this as jo-ha-kyu, which they roughly translate as slow, fast, faster.  Wikipedia gives the translation as, “beginning, break, rapid.”  Either way it describes the acceleration within a technique.  And here’s the important bit.  Jo-ha-kyu doesn’t happen once during a kata, it happens multiple times over.  Drawing the sword for the first cut (nukitsuke) has jo-ha-kyu, as does lifting it and performing the second cut (furikaburi to kirioroshi).

As a complete beginner I tended to go at a single pace.  This is understandable – I was learning the basic movements I needed to make.  As someone who has inched slightly off the beginner scale it is time for me to start implementing that change of pace.  Sometimes I get it right and it’s amazing how much more right the technique feels.  I’ve moved from waving the sword around to actually doing the cut.  For a short while I enjoy the feeling and then reality brings me down to earth as the next technique falls apart.  It’s a long, long road to travel with Iaido!

As a side note the tripartite concept of jo-ha-kyu is not limited to Japanese sword arts, but also formally recognised in Japanese theatre, poetry, music and story-telling.

If I think about it jo-ha-kyu is likely to be present in Aikido and Japanese Jitsu.  As with Iaido a single technique will contain multiple occurrences of jo-ha-kyu.  This Friday I’m back in the Aikido dojo, so I’m going to see how this principle works out.  Rather than rushing like a mad thing I’m going to try and see where the rhythm is.

Iaido.  It’s not slow.  It’s not fast.  It’s like a wave gathering and crashing on the shore, over and over again.

Posted in General observations, Iaido, Training | Tagged , , , ,

Handling mistakes

Imagine yourself performing a technique. It can be a solo kata, or it can be paired exercise where you are attempting to throw someone or put a lock on them. But you make a mistake. You fluff the technique and the person remains standing or the weapons end up in the wrong place. What do you do? Beginners typically go,
“Oops, let me try that again.”
Those who are more advanced have probably learnt that rather than persist, move on to something else because now your opponent has an idea what you are trying to do and will resist you.

Whatever level you are at, what do you after it’s all over?

  • Do you dwell on the mistake?
  • Do you think about what went wrong and how you can improve it next time?
  • Do you shrug the matter off?

A few weeks ago our visiting Iaido instructor mentioned that we shouldn’t dwell on the mistakes. Instead, he suggested, each time you start a new technique begin it from afresh, unhindered by the thought of what went on before. If your mind lingers on the mistake than it becomes a bigger issue in your mind and you are more likely to repeat it.

Now I don’t think he meant ignore your mistakes. My sword cutting technique has got very sloppy of late, and so I have been practising that slowly, with thought to what my hands and arms are doing. Rather than think of what I have done wrong I am instead trying to concentrate on what I can do right to make the cutting more effective.

Another suggestion from my Iaido instructor was finding a momentary pause within yourself before starting a technique. If you like a shorter version of the small meditation we do before and after class. Use that moment to clear away those thoughts of what you are doing wrong, calm your mind and then wholeheartedly enter into the technique.

Yet again this seems such a simple idea when I type it out, but it’s a tricky thing to put into practice!

Posted in Iaido, Mental development, Other martial arts, Training | Tagged , , ,

Brain=yes, body=no

A three day seminar of Iaido may have moved my sword work forward a little but it left my knees extremely battered!  Almost as battered as my boken from doing tachiuchi no kurai (the paired exercises we do) which is now partly held together with cricket-bat tape.  There were a number of small but important things that were highlighted to me.  These, combined with some comments from last nights class got me thinking.

  • I’m tending to lean forward, and this is impacts on the form I am practising.
  • I keep bringing my legs into a line, like I’m walking on a tightrope, so I become unsteady.
  • During some techniques I turn my feet out, causing my hips and centre to face away from my attacker.
  • I’m using too much muscle strength, and not using my hara/centre to execute the cutting actions.
  • I need to slow down, yet still maintain the rhythm with each technique, until I get it right.
  • My nukitsuke (the initial draw and horizontal cut) is not right – I fail to extend the iaito forward enough due to the action of my arm and wrist.

As I read that list I think that most of that could apply to my Aikido.  Also, I know logically that this is all bad form but my body still carries on doing it.  If I stop halfway through a technique then I become aware and can correct the issue.  The brain knows it’s wrong, the body is just refusing to go along.

This week my Iaido instructor said that having a weapon in your hands is distracting.  It moves you away from thinking about your body and you concentrate on what is in your hands.  My old Stav instructor was also of this view.  Both stated that ideally people should concentrate on learning weaponless martial arts in order to understand body movement better.

So this week I am not going to pick up any of my weapons before next class.  (The nukitsuke can wait for now).  Instead I am going to concentrate on the body movements and repeat them until eventually it becomes brain = yes, body = yes.  I realise this doesn’t make for a very exciting blog post, but then this blog has primarily been about jogging my memory!

Posted in Courses, Iaido | Tagged , ,

Hip hip hurrah!

I love training with my aikido teachers.  In particular on of them is always an inspiration to train with, be it him teaching a class or us training one-on-one together.  He encourages me, helps me out when I am stuck, remains humble, isn’t frightened to admit a mistake and is an all round good egg.  One of the things I admire is that he (like some of my other instructors) have that wonderful way of making a technique look effortless but when you are on the receiving end you know it is deadly.  It’s the effortless look that causes many people to think aikido is ineffective, but that’s a debate for another day.

On Friday a combination of circumstances led to me driving past my aikido club just in time for training.  I hadn’t planned to be there, so lacked the right kit, but I thought a break in my journey for a few hours of aikido was a good idea.  I was delighted when I found the above mentioned instructor was teaching the class.

Martial artists know the importance of instigating movement from the hips (or your centre).  The body creates strong movement from the hips, it prevents an over-reliance on upper-body strength.  Sooner or later someone will be physically stronger than you but few non-martial art people work out how to be mechanically stronger.  What I took away from last weeks lesson wasn’t just about hip movement, it was about which hip in which direction is the principal driving force.

I’ll start this simple.  In Jitsu and Iaido we learn that there are two ways you can move forward.

  1. Use the forward leg to pull the body towards it, dragging the back leg with you.
  2. Use the back leg to push the body towards the front leg.

Try it.  Which one creates the most power?  If you get a friend to hold out an arm and try and stop you moving is it easier to push against them from the back leg, or pull yourself on the front leg?  Back leg wins every time.  Your body is driving against the arm, rather than the muscles in one leg.

What my aikido instructor showed us, and we successfully showed amongst ourselves, is that which hip that drives a hip turn is as important as which leg drives a step forward.  Conventionally aikidoka are told, “turn the hips.”  This causes the forward one to rotate back and the backwards one slightly forward.  Which is good, you do generate more power than by using the upper body alone, but that power is limited.  And because the forward hip is now moving away from your opponent then the power and direction behind your defence is now reduced.

Instead we were shown to drive the back hip forward.  This achieves two things.  Firstly, to successfully do this you have to drop your weight.  Dropping your centre of gravity is a common theme across martial arts!  Secondly, you no longer produce an inadvertent move backwards, and subsequent power reduction.  Instead you continue to drive towards the opponent.  I’ve written about the need to do this for both Iaido and Jitsu.

The class went through a variety of techniques with each one utilising this modified hip turn.  Wow!  We were all feeling the effects of it by the end of the class!  For me it was a real light-bulb moment.  There has always been this nagging feeling in my mind that my aikido tends too much to the passive side.  And if that is because I have unknowingly been including a minor retreat in my techniques then this makes semse.

So for a random drop in on a class I came away having learned a great deal.  Hip, hip hurrah!


Posted in General observations, Training

Stalled and stumbling

So I’ve hit that point which, without doubt, I will encounter over and over again on my journey through learning aikido and jiu jitsu.  At this moment in time “that point” is occurring in aikido.  Experienced martial artists will nod and know where I’m coming from.  The thing is, I’ve stalled in my progress.  Techniques are just making so little sense and I emerge from each training session with a feeling that I haven’t been as receptive as I should because my session has felt like one big muddle.

Strangely the one thing I don’t feel is frustrated.  Rather I feel an abstract, “oh look, I’m having to work harder to gain a better understanding,” and happily continue on with my training.  So these musings are born from a curious, rather than conquering, mindset.

For an example of my stalling, when even the simple question was raised to us, “which hand is going to meet the mat first when uke falls out of this throw,” it left me thinking, “uh?”  The senior grade next to me muttered, “come on girl, you know  this.”  Well yes, I did know that one side met the mat first, in this case the right, but for some reason my brain was just not functioning on any sensible level to formulate the correct answer.

In many areas of my life people have accused me of not seeing the woods for the trees.  Part of me wonders if this is what is happening here.  I’m so busy thinking, rather than actually doing and feeling, that my mind has gone into overload.  I seem to recall a similar moment in jitsu.  My sensei’s response there was to make me deal with a line of attacks without pause.  Did the trick nicely.  Someone rushing towards you ready to knock you out with his mate rapidly closing in as well, followed by another and another. . . You don’t think, you just defend again and again.

Or maybe I’ve reached the end of one rapid learning curve, now is the time to refine what I have learnt and people are helping me with that.  Bad habits are best corrected early.  Or another way to look at it, I’m being encourage to fine tune what I have.

Or the third option, people feel it’s time to stop being soft with me, that I need to learn to deal with attackers that have a bit more purpose.  Now seeing as I wrote once on the challenges of being an uke  then I am truly delighted at increased tenacity on my uke’s part.  And the best bit is, they are still willing to spend the time to show me how to be better.  Training must be more satisfying for them if they can launch a decent attack.

So.  Stop thinking so much, start doing.*  Be aware that learning is never a steady process, but one of acceleration and breaking.  And continue to enjoy the challenges and teaching I receive.

* And I am well aware that writing this blog is part of me over-thinking!

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Image from:

Posted in General observations, Training | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Martial art priorities: part 1

I’m a PhD candidate at a UK University.  The other day I was marching across campus to attend a meeting with my supervisor.  There were numerous doors from one building to the next and along the way I managed to slam a heavy fire door into the little finger of my left hand.  I immediately rushed to the kitchen and applied cold water and ice in an attempt to reduce the swelling.

Consequently I was five minutes late for my meeting.

When I walked into the supervisors office I explained the reason for my lateness, and finished it with, “this is a disaster, I’m going to struggle to do my iaido practice.”  (The left hand and the tension and release of the left finger is a major part of the control of the sword.)

My supervisor frowned.  “Never mind that, can you still type to write code and complete the report?”

Well that aspect hadn’t even crossed my mind!

Eventually I spluttered the reply, “well, I can type with one hand, but I can’t cut a sword with one hand.”

Posted in Humour, Priorities

Your best Iaido/Jitsu/Aikido happens when you’re tired?

What ever martial art you do there must have been the first time your sensei/teacher pushed you to the limits until you were physically tired and barely able to lift your arms to block, or find the energy to think of a different throw or arm lock to the one you had just done six of.  There’s something exhilarating, if physically exhausting, about pushing yourself to those limits.  Sweat drenched, muscles screaming from lactic acid build up, lungs gasping for air and still Sensei shouts, “keep going, I didn’t say you could stop!”  And when you do, finally, stop and inwardly acknowledge there’s going to be some bruises and aching muscles tomorrow, your face has a huge grin on it.

We must be mad.  But it’s fun!


The guy on the right must be tired if he’s gripping bis sword by the sharp end!  Image:

What use do these intense periods of training have?  I live a fairly gentle lifestyle outside of my martial arts.  It’s highly unlikely I’ll be attacked  by a set of Japanese samurai on the streets of the UK.  I don’t lead the sort of lifestyle that results in large numbers of people trying to pick a fight with me.  Does this mean these tests are  a little over-the-top

During one of these sort of tests at Iaido last night we were training one on one alternating between attacks and defences.  Sword cut straight to your opponent, they block and then they carry out a counter-attack, which you block and respond with another attack, and so on.  In the middle of it all Sensei called out, “your best Iai comes out when you’re tired!”  Does it?  I tucked the thought away, carried on, and after class gave the statement some thought.

When you’re tired you stop thinking,  There’s no energy to think and so your body reverts to the muscle memory you have built up through endless repetition of exercises.  This is why towards the end of those sessions we default to the techniques we know best.  My “default techniques” in Jitsu are O Soto Gari, Tai Otoshi* and Ippon Seio Nage and in Aikido it’s Irimi Nage.  These are techniques I learnt and understood early on in my training and so are firmly ingrained into what I do.

I have not been doing Iaido long, around a year.  We rarely do these sort of pressure tests (three times since I started) and last night was the most intense of those tests to date.  What become clear to me was how poor some of my techniques are.  How wobbly my basic cuts are, how my body movement is all over the place, and how my blocks fail to block (hence today’s bruised hands).  My default is not good and I need to gain that muscle memory.  We all know that the only way to improve that default is to practice as much as I can.

So does your best martial art performance comes out when you’re tired?  Once you have reached a certain level then I think this statement is true because your default is good.  Like many people I tend to overthink what I do and I know that when I stop thinking things flow more naturally (if throwing someone on the ground and putting an arm lock on them is natural).  If I want to achieve a default of being good in Iaido then I need to put more practice time in and spend longer focusing on the basics.

I don’t think it’s enough for me to just do the basics.  The practice time is the time to do them with thought.  I need to think about my body posture, which muscles need tension, which ones need to be relaxed, how the fingers tighten during the cut, the length of travel during the sword, how I move into the cut. . .   The list goes on.  I need to do those cuts with consideration again and again.  And when I’ve done that and my arms are aching, then I need to go wild and just do the technique with no step-by-step thought.  And that’s just one day.  The next day the same, and the same.  The beauty of Iaido is that you can practice so much at home even if my neighbours do think I’m odd when I do practice on the lawn.

I felt quite determined at the end of the session yesterday as  I was suitable embarrassed at myself for my performance.  Things take time to master, but that time is the time spent training not sat on my backside between lessons.



* Tai Otoshi has to be one of my favourite throws when done from a punch (not the way it’s done it judo or BJJ).  The moment someone comes at me with a good roundhouse punch I don’t even have to think, it’s a case of absorbing the punch, whipping the hips back, moving the leg back and all the while dropping my centre.  I love that throw!

Posted in General observations, Iaido, Mental development, Training

Breaking a kata into steps

After iaido training last night I mentioned my 30-day challenge to one of my instructors.  If I do focused practise for at least ten minutes a day for 30 consecutive days then I will reward myself.  My reward?  Purchase of an iaito.  An iaito is an unsharpened, but still rather pointy and capable of stabbing yourself with, metal practise sword.  It will be a step-up from my bokken (wooden practise sword).

My instructor gave me some good advice.  Rather than practice a whole kata in the time I have available, break the kata into components and practice a component each day.  The moment he said it I thought, “how obvious, why didn’t I think of that.”  I have come close, practising my sword cuts (which remain in dire need of improvement) but not the other parts of each kata.

Tonight I focused on the chiburi going from seiza (kneeling) to standing.  Chiburi is the act of removing blood from the sword by means of a downward flick.  As you do so you rise smoothly from the kneeling to standing position, feet hips width apart and knees slightly bent.

The first five attempts went OK.  By ten I could feel the move becoming smoother, my feet starting to reach the correct finishing position.  By 15 my thighs were complaining.  By 20 I had to pause for a couple minutes, switch sides and start again from the other side.  It occurred to me that high thigh strength is required do this move smoothly and repeatedly.  Time to increase my weight at the gym when I do squats!

Best of all that concentrated ten minutes allowed me to start focusing in on things that I hadn’t noticed I did before.  The most obvious was pushing off from my back foot rather than rising from centre.  These little details get lost when you focus on doing an entire kata.  So I am going to pass on my sensei’s advice and say, break down your throws, katas and locks to focus in on a certain step or body movement.

Posted in Iaido, Technical, Training | Tagged , , , ,

Am I practising it right?

On Sunday I attended a seminar in Niten Ichi-Ryu.  This is a sword style that our dojo only trains in once a month so it’s good to travel, train with others and spend a day covering stuff that would normally take several months of teaching time to get across.

The warm-up was left to ourselves to do.  So having done my stretches I moved into practising the basic hasso cut which differs to the iai cut that I am used to doing.  Our dojo only has two hours of Niten teaching each month, so I try my best to practise out of of class.  I’m slightly hampered by having a house with low ceilings (no room to swing the sword) and the downsides of the British weather (wet, numb hands in cold, driving rain don’t really do it for me). But when I can I do, because some practise is better than none.

Or is it?

I was practising my cuts up and down the dojo when the Sensei came over to me.  There were a number of things that were leading to my cut being inefficient and next to useless.  I gratefully listened to his advice and did my best to correct things.  But as the day went on my cuts kept reverting to those very same mistakes that had been pointed out to me.  In addition, my sword cuts weren’t straight they were going off at odd angles.  Niten is a paired technique.  At best it’s unfair to my training partner when I don’t cut straight, at worse it means I end up hitting them by mistake because I can’t do a proper cut.

On the way home I mulled over this basic cutting exercise.  Two thoughts developed.

  1. When there is no one in front of you it’s hard to tell if you are cutting straight.  A field or lawn does not provide an indication if you are off by 10 cms (4 inches for anyone from the USA reading this).
  2. That over the past month I had allowed my cutting mistakes to accumulate because I had no idea I was doing them wrong and no-one had seen me doing the cut and was able to help me correct the errors.

Then I was struck by the gloomy thought that it might be better not to practise at all if all it was going to do was make mistakes and ingrain them in my memory.  But it wasn’t long before I thought, “rubbish!”  Part of being able to do a technique is knowing the steps and having confidence.  If I never practised then I wouldn’t have any sort of confidence, I would be hesitant and uncertain, and I would make even less progress.  It’s only by making the mistakes that they get picked up on, I can improve and move on in my understanding.  Because sooner or later I will make those mistakes and it’s better to make them sooner.

In addition, just because one part of the technique was in need of correction it didn’t follow that it was all terrible.  (My teachers may well raise a sceptical eyebrow if they are reading this!)


Training at our Niten Ichi-Ryu.  Photo from Heijoshin Dojo, UK.

It’s too easy to get hung up being perfect. If we obsess with perfection that we become too scared of making the mistakes that are needed.  Then we forget that martial arts is about the journey not the end goal.  It was Churchill who said, “success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

So, am I practising right? I’m practising, and that’s better than not practising at all.

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Furikaburi to Kirioroshi

The weather has improved in the UK during April.  This means I can now go outside and practice my kenjutsu sword cuts without my hands turning blue from the cold within 5 minutes.  Lately I have been going through some of the basics of furikaburi to kirioroshi.

Furikaburi is moving the sword from the horizontal cutting position to the overhead position ready for the downward cut that is kirioroshi.  These two moves are seen from 14 seconds to approx 17 seconds in the video below.


The kirioroshi, in common with many other martial arts moves, looks deceptively simple but has a lot going on.  It’s the left hand that creates the action, the right is there to guide and stop the weapon from crashing ever downwards.  (Don’t believe anyone that tells you Japan had no left-handed swordsmen, they were all left-handed.)  The most common cry from out Sensei when we are practising this technique is, “more left hand!”

The position with which the hands grips the weapons is important..  The hands go over the top rather than around the sides, and at first this feels uncomfortable.  As the sword descends in to the cut the grip tightens from the little fingers towards the index finger, and it is this that has suddenly clicked in my mind.  Before it felt like a rather odd motion.  I was told it contributed to the cut but being told something and feeling it are two different things.

Yet now I see/feel/get it!  It’s the tightening action that brings about the swords initial movement, not the wrist and arm movement.  It’s the tightening that controls it’s descent before bringing it to a halt.  That’s only taken 1000’s of cuts to realise this.  No doubt it will take 1000’s more to make it flow more beautifully.

Enough typing.  Back outside to keep practising those cuts!

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