Unka Kim's Martial Art
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Over the last ten years I've read a lot of discussion on the internet from a certain ryu that seems to have a fascination with booting people out. It's been quite a lot of fun to watch as headmasters get named, then booted or quit while denouncing their own instructors. I've renamed it Hamon ryu for my own amusement.
This has led me to make this list of some of the items that people feel compelled to share with the world at large through postings on forums or on websites.
|July 30, 2008
||Will this work on the
When we practice partner kata with wooden weapons we tend to have spaces and pauses where one person is left hanging around waiting to be hit. It gets pretty easy to avoid that eventual counterattack and attack once more under those conditions, so how do we know that what we're doing really works?
You can make that observation in any paired weapons practice that is not "freestyle". It's the way we have to practice for 1. safety and 2. the ability to study more than a couple of different techniques that work really well at full speed.
The way to think about this is to imagine applying any koryu sword or stick-work in a kendo situation. How many of the cool techniques would work if our partner was free to simply move the blade and smack us while we're doing some sort of switching of our hands or shuffling of our feet.
Which of course is a great way to check on the reality of our practice.
In many cases we may try doing a different technique or application of the counter that is faster, or we may try speeding up the technique. May I suggest that any time you have a pause in a kata, followed by the counterattack, you simply don't pause. See if the technique works without that small stop and re-balancing, and see if your partner can still avoid the counter, even if it is performed at the usual speed in the kata. Perhaps a small shift in distance or a small change in target will allow the technique to work without that painful waiting around to be hit.
Have a careful look at all the movements you are making in the kata, are there any extra motions or twitches that you can get rid of? Every one of them takes time so getting rid of them may allow you to react much more quickly without trying to speed up.
To get back to this whole "pause and wait" thing again, I think we're looking at the reason shinai kendo was developed in the first place. It is a simple answer to "what works?"
Here's how it goes. Solo practice is just swinging at the air and where's the target?
Let's go to paired practice (with wooden weapons for safety) so we can find the targets and the distance.
But we can't swing or react at full speed for safety reasons so let's get some padding on our partner so we can react at full speed without worrying too much if we tap them accidentally in our excitement.
But we can't swing at full power through the target which means we're still not at full speed so let's modify the weapon a bit further to make it flexible and now we can swing through and see how things go at full reactive speed.
But we're still anticipating because it's kata practice so let's put both sides in the padding and the safety weapons and remove that foreknowledge of the kata, let's go freestyle but of course we still have to restrict the targets to the areas we have padded.
But now we are having problems because the techniques become severely restricted to things that are very fast and very simple and a lot of the students are only practicing stuff that "works" under our new practice conditions so let's do some solo practice to learn how to grip and cut. Let's also do some paired kata practice to expand the technical repertoire once more... and we'll get out of the hot padding while doing the kata since we don't have to protect ourselves when we both know the pattern, timing and outcome.
|July 30, 2008
|Philosophy||Right and Wrong
What if you had the power of life or death? Wait, you do. OK let's say you have the power to kill by pressing a button and there would be no consequences at all, and let's say further that the person killed really "needs to be killed".
Great first year philosophy question here. Should you push the button? What's the right answer?
Of course the mistake is in believing there is a right thing or a wrong thing to do, even if one can know with certainty what someone is going to do in the future. If we can go back in a time machine and kill Adolph Hitler, should we do it? Should we push that button that ends his life before he causes so many others to end the lives of so many others? This implies that there is a right or a wrong answer in this situation.
The problem with the discussion is that by having the discussion we destroy the premise of right and wrong. Unless we put a God or Society or some other authority who defines "right and wrong" above ourselves, there is no right or wrong, there is only what we did and what we do. There is only "what we did/do" and the reasons why we did/do it.
If we have God or Society, and accept either as the definition and designator of right and wrong, there is no need for discussion and thought, the laws are written down, the answer is simple. If we figure there is room for interpretation of those rules, if we point out contradictions or loopholes, we put ourselves above that authority and then we are back to relying on ourselves, and thus are simply left with "what we do".
Life as a law-abiding, God-fearing person is a lot easier. You do what's right or you suffer the consequences. The equation is simple and inevitable. However, the instant you start to debate right or wrong you put yourself into the role of the law-giver, and enter the realm of uncertainty. With that you inevitably come to a place where you decide, and all you're left with is the bare, uncomfortable reasons for that decision.
And that's a very poor and lonely place indeed.
|July 29, 2008
(It's not really funny any more, I expect it, but I'll say it anyway). It's funny how I can think about something and then notice all sorts of connections out there in the zeitgeist. I mentioned attention below, and today I was working my way through the introductory essay of "Reading Photography", the catalogue of a show from 1977, when I read "Attention is creative, as Simone Weil remarked, and attention is what any good, let alone great, photographer deserves."
You could say the same about any martial arts kata or any sensei for that matter. It's assumed that attention is something you pay in order to memorize a movement, or pick up some information that will be on the exam, or just because you might hear a new story. But attention is creative.
When you pay attention to your kata you are creating something that never existed before. You are creating the movements for the first time in history. It doesn't matter if the kata is 400 years old, by paying attention to the motions, you are creating something unique.
By paying attention to your partner when practicing you are creating a brand new dance in the universe.
By simply going through a set of memorized movements, by "making it a habit", you are not creating anything, you're not even recreating something, you are only existing, only moving through time without using it. In other words you're wasting time, yours, your instructor's, your partner's.
I just looked up a bit more of Weil's quote which deals with the story of the Good Samaritan.
Christ taught us that the supernatural love of our neighbor is the exchange of compassion and gratitude which happens in a flash between two beings, one possessing and the other deprived of human personality. One of the two is only a little piece of flesh, naked, inert, and bleeding beside a ditch; he is nameless; no one knows anything about him. Those who pass by this thing scarcely notice it, and a few minutes afterwards do not even know that they saw it. Only one stops and turns his attention towards it .... The attention is creative. But at the moment when it is engaged it is a renunciation. This is true, at least, if it is pure. The man accepts to be diminished by concentrating on an expenditure of energy, which will not extend his own power but will only give existence to a being other than himself, who will exist independently of him .... Creative attention means really giving our attention to what does not exist... He who has absolutely no belongings of any kind around which social consideration crystallizes does not exist. - Simone Weil, Waiting for God (New York: Harper and Row, 1973), pp. 146-149. as quoted here: http://www.spiritualitytoday.org/spir2day/904233grote.html
So our kata can be thought of as the man who fell amongst thieves, it sits ignored and naked beside a ditch, unreal until someone pays attention to it, gives their energy to it and creates it. We can't obtain the kata, we can't own it, we can only give it reality, create it each time by pouring our energy into it, and then it exists outside of us.
But just as we give attention to the kata, we also, of necessity, give attention to our partners, and they give attention to us. Receiving attention, we become more than we were. Beyond that, the kata also gives attention to us, or rather the tradition within which the kata exists gives attention to us. While we perform the kata, it moves through us and we learn what it has to teach us.
After reading over this post, I think I need to think a little about the "Zen Sickness" as I may be coming down with a bit myself.
|July 16, 2008
||I like this shot
A lot. I'm sorry for not posting more often but I've been spending a lot of time in the shop and what extra time I can manage with the kids who are out of school. Meanwhile, I'm recycling.
You've seen this shot below, but I love the dynamics of it. Technically, it's not much, a point and shoot at an iso that's way too high so lots of noise.
But it's full of life, I'm in the middle of cutting and Pamela is paying attention. Actually that's what I like most about this image is her position and her eyes. She was thrown into this demonstration as the only person available. All the senior jodo folks in the area were elsewhere so it fell to a brand new shodan, with one year of experience to be featured at the Canadian National Kendo Championships. We worked on her shodan techniques for a week and the instructions were mostly "hit me" "no, really, I won't break, hit me" "really, I've been doing this for a long time, hit me" "hey, see, I didn't break, now hit me harder"
You get the idea, with a year of practice Pam had the techniques but not the confidence that she could do them without breaking my arm or my head. At her level it's mostly a matter of understanding that I can take care of myself and that I can fade away from her strikes if she's a little off.
With the seniors it would have been a bit different, something like "let's go" and then I wouldn't have been saying or thinking anything except "damn that was close!".
Back to Pam. This is really a big thank you to her for stepping forward when she was petrified, it was her first demo ever, and it was just the two of us in front of the senior kendo instructors, and some of the best kendo players in Canada (and therefore the world I am not afraid to say).
I never have a lot of students in my classes, but they have always stepped up when needed. Keeps me coming back to class every week.
A final thought, these techniques aren't really all that hard to pick up, you can dance them pretty well in a year if you're half-way familiar with how to move. What you work on after that is a belief in yourself and your partners (which Pam was working on), and then a certain desire to push yourself and your partner toward the edge (which can take a lot of years). An awful lot of people never get beyond memorizing the movements. The techniques are nothing, the conversation that happens while performing them... that's the important part.
|July 15, 2008
|Philosophy||Bowing Out Over Not
"My religion doesn't allow me to bow, can I substitute another form of etiquette for the bows in the martial arts?"
My answer to this is fairly standard, and has been since my days of Aikido.
For me, and for most people in the Japanese arts the bowing isn't a big deal, but for anyone who is worried about the bowing, it IS a big deal.
As such, if you cannot do the bowing in Iaido, you should think very long and very hard about doing iai. There are other cultural aspects of the practice that will also conflict with your religious views as well, the bowing is simply an external representation of a whole series of assumptions and cultural meanings. If bowing is something that is important in your own religion (to bow or not to bow) then not bowing, doing something else, will not remove the underlying meanings of those bows.
The bowing isn't the point, it's just an external representation of the cultural assumptions, of respect, humility, openness, acceptance etc. Not bowing does not negate those assumptions, you still must accept them to do proper iai, and if you can't accomodate the assumptions to your own religion, you shouldn't be doing iai.
Simply put, if your religion won't let you bow in iaido, your religion likely won't let you do iaido (or any other Japanese art).
While we may say "sure put hand over heart" or whatever instead of bowing, that's because we don't have a problem with bowing (and thus with not bowing) but if your religion has a problem with bowing your own religion has a problem with the rest of it.
Ai Ki and I Ai both have to do with accomodating to the situation (bowing is that accomodation in this case). If there can be no accomodation for religious reasons, there is no point doing the arts, there's nothing to get out of it except an external form. If all you want is an external movement form, there is likely a traditional dance in your own culture that you can safely do without worrying about religious sanctions.
Now if the religious problem is the simple act of bowing, the mechanical act of bending from the waist, then what's the problem in the first place? Just bow when god and the grannies are not looking. Of course the bow means more than folding your body. It could mean subjugation to a single supreme authority, to god. But is it the mechanical act or the intent behind the act? If it's the intent, the act itself can probably be performed without offence to an all-knowing god.
But let's say, for instance, that god is all-seeing but can't tell the difference between you bowing to a supreme being or as a sign of respect to a teacher or the art. In this case, and this case only I suppose it would be OK to do the hand over heart thing instead of bowing. This assumes of course that your god doesn't mind you being respectful to the sword or the teacher, just that he's confused about the meaning behind the bow so forbids the mechanical act to be on the safe side.
If your religion forbids you from bowing for some reason other than that physical act, for instance if respecting your martial art teachers etc. IS a problem, it's only if your god cannot see beyond physical actions that not bowing will fool him, assuming of course that the hand on heart thing will mean the same as the bow it substitutes for.
If you will do hand on heart to mollify your martial arts teacher without actually feeling respect, or being open to instruction, why practice?
In my opinion, and this is why I don't mind you not bowing, a god that can see beyond physical actions to the intent behind that action will not have a problem with bowing to a sword, it has nothing to do with worship of an object or another god, it doesn't concern him/her at all. As your teacher I will assume that the hand on heart has the same intent as a bow, so I've got no problem with it, but then again, if we're on the same page, you've got no problem with bowing. And there's the problem.
Of course even if your god can see the difference in intent when you bow, there may be folks in charge of the religion locally that will still have a problem with the outward forms since they don't have a clue about intent. This is usually the real problem, not the god or the religion, but the local leadership, and a student who has a problem with bowing is generally concerned with the grannies, not the gods.
So once more, we come to the same conclusion. While I don't have a problem with you not bowing, if you have a problem with bowing you should likely not do the martial arts. To practice without bowing would be hypocritical and if you can live with that, your religion isn't the problem, it's your concern for what your family or your religious leaders will say.
Unfortunately, living your life without hypocracy is one of the things you should be learning.
Iaido and the other Japanese martial arts are not overly concerned with outward form, the fact that you could do them without bowing means that there are underlying aspects to that bow that will surely conflict with your religion or, more likely, your culture (the grannies). Frankly, it's about flexibility and accomodation. If you can't bow, you can't accept that kind of accomodation.
|June 28, 2008
The CKF national kendo championships are underway today and we were down for an iaido and jodo demonstration.
Here's a video of the iaido demo
And the jodo demo
For iaido there were folks from several Toronto area dojo and Guelph.
For jodo that's Pam Morgan beating up meself. Great job for your very first demo ever Pam.
Hey, I do iaido and jodo, so yes, no kendo. Someone else send me some good footage or photos and I'll put it online. In fact somebody write a report for EJMAS please. That goes for all other events happening out there by the way.
OK OK here's a set of shots that include some kendo. Some of these shots are courtesy of Mark Osborne, many thanks Mark.
|June 28, 2008
The 2008 swordsmithing class has completed their course, with everyone coming away with their tanto. Details on the course can be found here: http://seidokai.ca/gsjsa_smithing.htm
I took some shots on the final afternoon as the class was finishing up the rough polishing on their heat-treated blades and were making habaki. You can find the photos here.
Here's some video featuring the class in the Floradale smithy of Thak the Armourer (Robb Martin). Check out his course pages for more photos of past swordsmithing classes.
Many thanks to the students and of course to Muh-Tsyr Yee and Robb Martin for providing their instruction and encouragement. The next seminar will be held in July 2009.
|June 14, 2008
||June 5-8 AUSKF
National Iaido Seminar
Had a great time at the seminar with Yamazaki hanshi and Saiki hanshi.
Photograph (click for large file)
Demonstration video (27mb)
Pam Morgan and I drove 10 hours down to Bryn Mawr and stayed for the two days of instruction, then headed home while the national championships (Saturday) and the gradings (today) were happening. Yamazaki sensei had the 3dan and up class for the first day and a half and concentrated for the first part on kihon. The second part was a run-through of seitei and demonstrations by the various levels from 6-7dan to 3rd with comments on levels and technique. I thought it was dead on to be doing so much kihon in a senior class. It tends to be what you need as you go up in experience.
Yamazaki s. also spent some time with the entire group explaining the difference between kata as mould or shape/container and kata which contained life. The next AUSKF seminar will be in June 2009 in Boise Idaho, I recommend heading there if you are curious about the lecture and they bring Yamazaki sensei back.
The Friday afternoon class was given over to a referee's seminar with Saiki sensei and he gave a thorough overview of proceedure along with some comments on judging to levels, and of course, judging fairly.
Pam was in the junior class and was full of praise for Saiki sensei's instruction, and then exhausted enough to sleep through most of Pennsylvania on the way back home after Yamazaki sensei's kihon class on the final afternoon.
I'd like to thank John and Sachiko Prough for their organization of the seminar, all their helpers, and the AUSKF sensei who were very kind to us.
|June 8, 2008
||May Iaido and Jodo
Here are some photographs taken by Kevin Lee at the seminar.
|May 22, 2008
||Jodo Grading Results
Well the seminar is just over, the sensei ought to be landing in Tokyo and be on the way to Fukuoka. I'm still catching up on things but here's a quick look at those who passed their jodo grading on Monday.
Unfortunately I don't have the results for the iaido gradings except for the new 5dans and those are: Enore Gordonio (AYC), Peter Schramek (JCCC) and Tim Wakefield (Shugyokan / Aurora).
2008 May Jodo Examination Results
Monday May 19, 2008
|May 21, 2008
|Philosophy||Who does What?
It is an interesting assumption in the martial arts that the best technician becomes the highest ranked person in the organization, and the top instructor as well. Even more strange is to automatically assume that the top folks are the best technicians.
Rather feudal actually, where the strongest arm gets the biggest chunk of land.
Consider any other activity involving physical skill, soccer perhaps. Is the head of FIFA the best soccer player? Is the top coach the best soccer player? Sounds silly doesn't it? Some folks are going to be good at organization and some are going to be good coaches and younger folks who don't have the experience and don't have the time for either organization or coaching are going to be the best players.
In fact, the whole idea of an organization is to put those who are best at certain jobs into those jobs. This means that one person doesn't have to do everything, which is a good thing since, if you're doing everything, you're doing everything poorly.
Even Musashi, that archetypal loner, thought that was a good idea. Consider his parable of the carpenter. The top fellow is best and most useful at knowing how to organize the folks under him, each according to which job he most suits.
So where did this idea in the martial arts come from, that the top guy has to be the top technician and the top instructor?
Consider the image of the wizened old codger living in a hut on the hill, and the eager young student who shows up for instruction. In a situation where there's a single teacher, two or three students and nothing else, the old fellow is going to end up doing all the jobs. He's going to organize the day's schedule, teach the youngsters, and of course, be better than they are at what he's teaching them. When they get as good or better than the teacher, they leave to go study or teach somewhere else.
Fine and good for one dojo or small schools but not so efficient for the big organizations. Once teacher gets 10 or 12 sub-dojo with his students teaching there he may decide it's time to hire a secretary, maybe someone to keep the books, maybe even get someone to run the business who likes doing that sort of thing. Meanwhile, since sensei has not been getting any younger, maybe he becomes the technical advisor and lets the younger teachers do the heavy lifting and throwing back down again of the students.
|May 12, 2008
||Up Where the Air is
The most recent 8dan grading results from Japan have been released:
12 new iai 8dans (12 our of 209, pass rate 5.7%)
2 new jodo 8dans. (2 out of 34, pass rate 5.9%)
13 new kendo 8dans
(Day 1: 5 out of 574, pass rate 0.9%)
(Day 2: 8 out of 834, pass rate 1%)
Why so few? At that level there is a lot more to it than who's still practicing and who's good. Although we all like to believe there isn't any "politics" in rank, at the upper levels of course there is. By politics I mean organizational realities and interpersonal relationships rather than "vote for me", although anyone who doesn't believe there is "lobbying" that goes on is naive.
So let's look at it from a practical point of view, with no 9 or 10dan ranks being awarded for many years (and none planned for the future as far as I've heard) there is a backlog of 8dans that will be created. In other words the operative principle switches from "he deserves it" to "we've got enough".
Hence in the last several years we've seen a reduction in areas that will do jump grades, and an increase in the requirements for grading. Things get stricter "because they can" and also "because they must". Too many people at the top makes things more complicated than they need be.
Looking at it another way, if there are 10 levels between bottom and top you'll get a certain spread of numbers and age. If you reduce that to 8 levels you will still get a similar spread but with fewer levels you'll get a constriction lower down, the difference in "pass qualification" gets tougher at each level.
So for iaido and jodo I see a pass rate of close to 6%, while for kendo it's 1%. Kendo is by far the larger art and has been promoting people up the ladder longer than either iai or jo, so their manageable quota of 8dans must be pretty much filled.
With 1400 challengers to 8dan you can see how "backed up" the system is for kendo. Compare that to 34 in jodo and 200 in iai and I'm surprised the pass rate isn't a bit higher in those arts.
So the reason for such low pass rates is quite likely a small need for new 8dans rather than a low level of skill.
I did mention politics, and before anyone starts assuming that I mean something distasteful by that, let me explain the term as I see it.
Up to a certain level you are going to be graded purely on technical skills. In fact, the criteria for awarding dan grades in the ZNKR state that at 1-3dan the central concern is the level of kihon, of basic (kendo) skills. These criteria apply to iai and jo as well.
For 4-5dan the central concern is the level of basic (kendo) techniques and advanced techniques. At these levels it's "skill", not theoretical knowledge, and you're not expected to be teaching (at 5dan you can start). There isn't anything else expected of you except that you're working hard and getting better so really, who cares what you think of the curriculum or whether or not you get along with the other children in the schoolyard.
From here on up there are further expectations. Now, instead of listing the "political" things that come into play let me put it another way.
In those ranks where you are expected to start teaching, leading and promoting the arts and the organization would it be wise to quickly promote up the ladder into more and more responsible positions someone who:
Don't all those things up there sound like a bunch of brown-nosing and "buying" the grades? In other words don't all those things sound like "office politics"? Sure they do.
If you aren't willing to "play the game" don't expect to be promoted as quickly as those who are working hard for the organization.
The rest of the criteria, by the way, from 6dan on up all make explicit mention of the continuing need for basic and advanced skills, and an increasing understanding of the theory and practice of those skills. They do not mention all those extra "political" things above because there's usually no need to invoke those considerations. Most of those who can't get along and don't like the organization will leave before they get to a senior position of authority.
The considerations would only need to come into play when someone does something damaging to the organization, or when you get the "jam-up" we were talking about at 7-8dan, in which case the positives and negatives will start to count in considerations for pass. Does this person give extra to the organization? If so, and in a choice between him and someone who complains constantly and does nothing useful, who do we promote???
I believe you can probably advance by skill alone, but honestly, is it good for the organization to push troublemakers and complainers quickly to the top, no matter how good their technique?
It is not a good thing.
Instead, it might be useful to give those folks another year to think about it and see if their attitude changes.
It's not good to have shirkers and whiners at the top, but it's also not good to have toadies and yes-men up there either. One thing I've noticed about the top folks in the organization that I've met over the years is that they are very, very good judges of character and they can very quickly size up any troublesome situation. Contrary to the usual assumption of "consensus" and shilly-shallying and avoidance of decisions, these guys can make decisions, make them stick, and suggest, in very blunt manner, some pretty ruthless solutions to difficult problems.
Am I privy to the discussions and mind-set of the senior levels of the ZNKR? No of course I'm not, but this makes sense to me and when I say politics this is what I mean. The reality of any organization is that you need people at the top who can get things done and bring people together more than you need people with massively impressive technical skills. That's why you may see the technicians out in the field teaching and the "politicians" in the office making the decisions.
Sometimes it's the same people, sometimes it's not. It has been said that Oe Masamichi was not the most skilled iaidoka of his generation. Think about the implications of that.
|May 10, 2008
|Philosophy||I want to learn the
When I was 20 I decided I had to sort some things out. After an "interesting" youth (oh nothing earth shattering, I wasn't a child soldier in Biafra like one of my fellow students... go look it up).
I looked around for a Zen priest and couldn't find one so settled for an Aikido class that was starting up in 1980 at the University. I had read a comic years before, "Judoman" that had a blurb in the back about the spiritual art of Aikido and Ueshiba sensei.
In any case, I spent the next several years... no I spent the next couple of decades devoting myself to the martial arts, Aikido, Tae Kwon Do, Boxing, Iaido, Jodo, Kung Fu and several others.
Several months ago one of my senior students told me he was ready to learn the deeper aspects of the arts. Here's what I told him.
To learn what I learned you have to be willing to do a few things. Get a job that lets you stay close to your sensei, never mind your career or the salary, you just need enough to live on.
Forget relationships... well that's not entirely true, you can have lots of relationships, and the girls will be pretty impressed with you for a while because you're going to be a pretty intense guy, but eventually they are going to realize you're intense about martial arts and not about them. You are going to neglect girlfriends, family, wives and kids because you are training.
Forget vacations, no time to waste relaxing, all that counts is to get to class, every class, as many as there are, and between classes you need to spend at least 3 to 4 hours a day training on your own. No days off. Between workouts and classes you will spend another 10 hours a day thinking about and reading about the martial arts.
Health? Forget it, you're going to have repetitive strain injuries, dislocations, bruises, breaks and migrains from concussions. You'll train through them all.
I can go on but you get the idea. If you want to get the deep secrets (which, it turns out aren't really secrets at all, just a knowledge that comes from 20 years of neglecting everything else) you have to put in the time and pay the price.
My student didn't decide for the martial arts, he decided for his career, and I'm happy he made that choice. I don't regret my own choices, they may have been the only ones that I could have made, and I really do understand some interesting things, but unless you need it, you don't really need it.
By the way, the martial arts aren't particularly special in this regard. If you want to be the best at gymnastics, baseball, chess, what have you. You'll spend the same amount of time getting to the top of the heap, neglect others, and become obsessive in the same way. You'll also find the strength and internal calm that comes with knowing you can drive yourself beyond what most folks could stand.
|May 8, 2008
||Always an angle
Here's a link to a downloadable chart for the various angles to cut in ZNKR iai. Very useful to check out. There's also a chart showing the parts of the sword. http://auskf.info/iaido-new/2004/
Check here http://ejmas.com/pt/2008pt/ptart_watson_0805.html for an ejmas article on kamae in Jodo by Andy Watson. The rest of the May updates are here: http://ejmas.com/thismonth.html
Page Tracking: If you use firefox you can download an add-on that will track specific web pages such as this one and notify you when they are updated.
|May 5, 2008
Wisdom of the Internet
|Habits vs Learning
One of the truisms on the internet is that you should never practice without a sensei. If you do you will develop bad habits that you won't be able to correct, or that will be much harder to correct than learning them from scratch.
All I can say to this is that if you can't correct a habit, you can't be taught. The martial arts are a life-long process of modifying habits, of changing and refining movements. The problem isn't developing a bad habit, the problem is not practicing enough to develop a habit at all.
So if you're too far from a teacher, or too young for class, or can't afford the lessons, get a book, get a video and work on it by yourself. For iaido that means swinging the sword. Trust me, I've seen enough beginners and even people with years of practice, to know that whatever bad habits you develop, they won't be any worse than if you'd studied only under a sensei. The difference is that you'll have all that swinging behind you and won't have to wear the grooves into your bones like the rest of the class. You'll have a base on which to build.
|May 3, 2008
|Philosophy||Hair on Fire
The advice to "train as if your hair is on fire" came to mind when I read the following in Jeff Broderick's blog.
I had a weird experience Thursday night. After the orientation, I went out with some co-workers as it was my last day in the office. After some food and some drinks, we came out of the bar and started heading for the subway. It was about 10 p.m. at this point, and they weren't very many people on the street. We rounded the corner, and I noticed an old man lying on his back in the sidewalk about 20 metres ahead of us. "Crazy old drunk!" I thought; it's rare but not unheard of to see people passed out in the street at night. But this was a very strange place to pass out. As we got closer, I realized from the position of his limbs and the way he was lying, that he wasn't drunk. "This isn't good," I remember saying. I ran up and yelled, "Are you all right?" He obviously wasn't. I felt for a pulse at his neck and at his wrist. There was nothing, and in fact, he was cold to the touch. "He's dead ... you'd better call the police..."
My Japanese co-worker went off to get the police from the local station, and I stayed with the body. The man's eyes were open slightly, and there was a trace of blood around his nose and mouth. He had been wearing a medical-type bracelet on his wrist, but it had fallen off. His clothes were strangely askew. At some point, I realized that he had jumped or fallen out of the high-rise apartment we were standing in front of. It was starting to rain, and I had this feeling that I couldn't just stand there and let him get rained on, so I held my umbrella over his body. A small crowd of people gradually started to accumulate. The sight of me holding my umbrella over a dead body must have made the whole scene doubly strange. Within a few minutes, a pair of young police officers rode up on their bicycles. They felt for a pulse, didn't find one, and then radioed it in. My Japanese co-worker had to stay and answer a few questions, but I was free to go so I left.
On the way home, the train was full, as usual, with all kinds of people: taciturn salary-men, boistrous couples, sleepy high school students, housewives. I couldn't stop looking at their faces. A few people must have wondered what I was staring at.
Jeff is a member of Sei Do Kai and has been living and working in Japan for several years.
|April 30, 2008
Merihari refers to the overall pacing of a kata, the way that some places are emphasized, some more quiet, and especially how all that ties together. It's what prevents a kata from being mechanical.
Here is a training exercise that we used in class recently to try and demonstrate merihari for ourselves.
We started with "teaching/learning mode" with all sections of the kata (ZenKen iai, seitei mae) done with equal time, at an equal pace while checking that we hit all the points. That means that each part, nuki tsuke, kiri tsuke, chiburi and noto ended up taking pretty much the same time and all the movements were done at about the same speed.
Then we did the kata with the same pacing but added in jo ha kyu on the cuts, chiburi and noto. This means that the movements started slow and accelerated to the finish. The draw and cut showed an acceleration, the final cut, shaking off the blood and the movement to put the sword away all showed a slow to fast section.
Next we added a feeling of seme from the hips to get rid of any sloppiness, and to keep everything pressing forward. This means that we kept our hips pressing forward as if pushing an imaginary enemy back. Without this feeling of pressure the posture can collapse and the body can sway back and forward while doing some of the movements.
Finally we forgot all about what we were doing and instead concentrated on teki, the imaginary opponent, trying to see him move and react to our movements.
Watching the class it was very interesting to see how they went from being robotic to "telling a story" as you could see them catching the opponent in some places, and carefully watching him in others. The timing/pacing of the kata was radically different from the first one of course.
Immediately after the final "teki" kata, I asked them to do the "equal pacing, no effort" teaching/learning mode kata again.
Finally I asked them how they felt about the last kata they did. I won't give their answers but it was pretty apparent that they could feel a difference in their own techniques between a kata with and without merihari.
I doubt they would have been able to do a kata "with merihari" if I'd just explained what it was and let them try to "do it", but there was no problem when we went through these steps and finally "told a story".
|Apr 28, 2008
Re: Montreal Children's Hospital Concussion KiT now available on-line
The Montreal Children’s Hospital Concussion KiT was developed through the work of the Neurotrauma and Concussion/Return to Sports Programs as an educational initiative to increase the awareness of parents, athletes, coaches and sporting associations with respect to preventing, recognizing and managing concussions in sports. We are pleased to provide you with our Concussion Kit developed in 2007.
To read more about this KiT and to access the documents, go to: http://thechildren.com/en/health/conditions.aspx?cID=&scID=&iID=307
This Concussion KiT contains:
|Apr 27, 2008
is pleased to be able to share the attached articles from the SIRC
Collection with you. Please note these articles represent the views of
the authors and not necessarily those of SIRC.
|Apr 21, 2008
|Training||On the Other Hand.....
If you're not interested in learning any more. If you know everything you want to know, than there are a few things you can do while at a seminar or in a class.
1. Pick a student and help out by teaching him or her for the class. Sensei will likely ignore both of you.
2. When sensei starts to explain something, remark on how you were told something different by some other sensei. That will tell sensei that you are someone else's student and he'll leave you alone.
3. Make sure that any new students, especially seniors, coming into the class are treated as outsiders. That way, even if they may know more than you, or have some skills to pass on, they will keep it to themselves.
4. Look at the clock more than you look at sensei. He'll get the message.
5. If all that fails and sensei still gives you a comment, maybe suggesting you fix something, immediately tell him you were working on something else. That way he'll know that you have no interest in correcting either one of the mistakes.
6. Of course you should always line up as far away from sensei as you can, preferably in a dark corner of the room.
There you have it, I hope those will help keep you from the inconveniences of new learning.
|Apr 16, 2008
||A Little Help Here...
If you're a serious student there are some things you can do to help sensei find things to complain about.
First, don't say "I know" or explain why you can't do something. Both are really telling sensei to go away and help someone else, you aren't listening or you can't fix it today, try again next class.
On the other hand, if you want some help, here's one method. First try to figure out where sensei is looking during class. This may be harder than you think since every sensei I've ever met has wonky eyes, they tend to correct people who are somewhere they aren't looking.
I suppose that's because when they look at students, those students try to do better, and the ones that aren't getting looked at figure they can be sloppy.
Here's the suggestion: When sensei is looking somewhere else, make the corrections, practice carefully and with your eyes turned inside so that you're checking your body position, the timing, whatever you're trying to fix today.
Then, when sensei is looking your way, forget about corrections and concentrate on doing the technique at as high a level as you can, full concentration, full on. What will happen is that you will show sensei where your ragged edges are, and that lets him tell you what you have to work on next.
In this way the two of you will leapfrog over each other and your skills will improve. You correct things while he's not looking and he corrects things while he is.
|Apr. 4, 2008
Producing Total Knockouts: Not The Typical Boxing Club
TORONTO, March 28- Punch Card: Producing Total Knockouts is an event designed to raise awareness of women and transgenders who have been the victims of violence and are looking for a way to break the cycle.
The first Canadian female boxing club, To ron to Newsgirls, in conjunction with The Shape Your Life Program will play host to the event activities. The Shape Your Life program aims to empower survivors by building self-esteem through the sport of boxing.
In the first corner of the ring, champion Lanay Browning will demonstrate boxing techniques and speak about the obstacles she has overcome to become one of Canada 's champion female boxers. In the second corner, graduates from the Shape Your Life Program will candidly speak about past experiences that led them to the program. With special appearances and musical performances by To ron to Newsgirl's founder, Savoy Howe and singer songwriter Mike Celia (www.mikecelia.com).
On Thursday, April 10 at 6 p.m., at the To ron to Newsgirls Boxing Club, 388 Carlaw Avenue, Unit.108, men and women will band together to make a difference in each other's lives.
Proceeds from the event will be donated to the Shape Your Life program for graduates to have a one-year gym membership to The To ron to Newsgirls Boxing Club. The To ron to Newsgirls (www.torontonewsgirls.com) is a boxing club that provides a safe and positive space for women to explore the sport of boxing.
Punch Card: Producing Total Knockouts is organized by Centennial College 's Corporate Communications and Public Relations students, in partnership with Opportunity for Advancement.
For further information,
images or to schedule an interview: Please contact Chrissy Newton, Punch
Card: Producing Total Knockouts- Media Relations, (416) 705-9523, firstname.lastname@example.org
|Apr 3, 2008
|Philosophy||You Are Where You
Think You Are
This is sort of a follow-on to the post yesterday. I made the point that progress is a bit of an illusion, that one only "progresses" in comparison to someone, someplace, some time or ideal. I also suggested that one could stop worrying about progress by not worrying about the past or the future and living in the present. It's also sometimes a good idea not to live in comparison to other people or in reference to things they say.
In the present there is only what exists now, which, somewhat paradoxically, leaves room for massive and sudden change. If we aren't caught up in the idea that the past/present is permanent and that change is gradual we can simply change.
I have taught women's self defence for the last 20 years at the University of Guelph and one thing we discuss in each class is a rather interesting change I noticed in the rape literature over time. In the beginning researchers would ask women if they had ever been raped and the women would answer no. "Well have you ever had this or this happen to you"
"But we define that as rape, have you ever been raped?"
So the researchers simply stopped asking whether or not women had been raped and asked what happened, then labeled that as rape when they made their conclusions and reports.
I have always found that fascinating and ask the class to explain it. Personally, I think the women being studied simply didn't want to take on the baggage that comes with "being raped". There is a large set of expectations and assumptions that are put onto women who are "raped", and many women don't want any part of it.
From here we go on to a discussion of what women (and men) should think about anything that happens to them. We usually get to a point where I start on one of my rants and it goes something like this.
You, and only you, get to decide what you think about what happens to you in this world. Nobody else, no movie of the week, no magazine, no school psychologist gets to decide how you react to the world around you. Only you get to do that. Good things happen. Bad things happen. You sometimes get injured, sometimes by rocks falling from the sky, sometimes by people who hate you. Good things also happen in equally random ways.
Only you live in your own head and only you are allowed to decide, and you can decide, how anything effects you. If you choose to have no long term psychological problems due to bad or good things that happen to you, that's OK. If you decide to just forget about it, that's OK. You aren't some kind of unfeeling freak, you're simply someone who chooses to define how you react to the world.
Memories don't get buried to resurface and cripple you decades later, you either remember things or you don't. When you do happen to remember something you get to decide what you feel about it then. You don't have to take on extra baggage because someone tells you that you will, or worse, that you should.
Oh go on, say it, I'm blaming the victim by suggesting that people who are psychologically crippled due to some event in their lives could simply decide that it doesn't cripple them.
I honestly don't know, am I? What I am suggesting is that any "cure" that I've ever heard of amounts to the damaged person deciding, slow or fast, with help or not, due to some talking circle or some psychoactive drug, that they are now fine. The therapist or pharmacist does not declare them cured, only the victim him or herself does that.
The alternative to saying that we get to decide (eventually) how we feel about what happens in our lives is to say that if something bad happens we can't get over it and are crippled for life. There are reasons why people might suggest this but by the very nature of the statement those reasons have nothing to do with helping the victims.
What I'm saying is that we have a choice about how things affect us and that nobody else in the world should presume to tell anyone that they should or will react in any particular way. It's not our right to tell anyone whether they are happy or unhappy, damned or saved, cured or sick.
Not Our Right.
Back to our person in the world. Let's say they have a broken arm. In one case it's from a rock falling down a mountain. Does one start to fret about the reason why the mountain hurt them? Or why the gods don't like them? Or if one was trespassing somehow on sacred ground and was therefore a bad person and deserved to be hit by the rock? How about if ones arm is broken by one's significant other?
Me, for myself, I think it's pretty clear that what needs to be done is that the arm needs to be fixed, a sigh of relief needs to be given that it was an arm and not a neck that got broken, and then one needs to decide whether or not to go back to the rocky slope or the relationship. It doesn't really need to get any more complicated than that.
So, here you are in the now, something happens, you decide and there you are. You are where you think you are.
|Apr. 2, 2008
|Philosophy||Every Day in Every Way
"How do I know I am making progress?" Or, "Am I making progress? Or, perhaps somehow tied with it, the idea of corrections...Good? Bad? Personally, I like getting corrected because it gives me something to work on. If I work on it, it will get better and I will have made progress.....How does one know one is making progress? Automatically the question goes back to why you're practicing martial arts. You will know you're making progress when you get closer to the goals you assumed when you started practice. For some that's "getting a black belt" for others "becoming a teacher", "being the baddest, kick-ass dude around". Some may even start the martial arts to "become a better person".
The reason for practice gives the assumed goals and you will make progress or not toward those goals.
Iaido and Jodo are closed/semi-closed arts, Let's get simple and just assume we're talking technically, as in "am I getting better at the physical skills of jodo or iaido?" This is possible for these arts since they have an ideal form that one can move toward. The question of progress then becomes "am I getting closer to the ideal form as demonstrated by my sensei"? You can check this by filming yourself, having sensei tell you you're getting better, or if you're further along the path, checking your own form internally, comparing the position of your body to what you know it should be through being put there by sensei. You progress through being corrected and incorporating those corrections, at which time you get more corrections.
With something like Jodo you have a partner, so you have another comparison to make, "am I better or worse than my partner today"? You can measure your progress through matching yourself to the other guy. For more open sports like boxing, kendo or wrestling the measurement of progress becomes whether or not you beat the other fellow. Fairly simple... well perhaps not, what if you're not getting better, what if your competition is getting worse?
What if you change instructors and the new guy isn't as good as the old one, do you suddenly get better (closer to what sensei can do) or is the comparison suddenly different? OK too obvious, what if your instructor gets older, more feeble, more injured? Are you improving then?
In every case the idea of progress requires some sort of comparison, to myself yesterday, to someone else, to an ideal form. Without something to measure ourselves against we can't have any notion of progress. Without some sort of "here" and a "there" to get to, you won't progress at all, you'll simply be "here".
Even self-improvement is difficult since we're actually comparing ourselves to what we remember of our skills yesterday. Memory isn't always very accurate, one's skills as a beginner tend to rise as one acquires more skill, I seem to recall I was pretty good at about 2 years into practice... but I've seen video...
Now before you pounce and say "yes, video! That's the ticket" just remember that a single performance laid down on a video isn't always accurate either. Your current skill is quite variable, some days are better than others, some minutes are better than others, a video captures one of those.
What happens when you get so good you achieve your goal? Is there anywhere to go, any progress beyond that? Ever wonder about the black belt dropout rate? There's anecdotal evidence of a massive loss of students as they reach black belt, could it be that they see nothing beyond their goal and once they arrive there they have no reason to stay?
Now, what happens if you suddenly lose the idea of progress, think only of what you are doing now, only of what sensei is telling you this instant, and focus on change rather than progress. Only change, not good or bad change, not caring about where you're going, only participating in where you are?
With noplace to go what might you do here? With no worries about last week's corrections or next month's gradings, how much concentration can you give to what you're doing today? With nothing to accomplish, what might you achieve?
"Every day in every way I'm getting better and better". Compared to what?
|Apr 1, 2008