East Coast Iaido Seminar and Shinsa 2009

March 18, 2009

Originally written on February 2, 2009.

So this pas Sunday was the East Coast Iaido Seminar and Shinsa and for those of you who don’t know, I started practicing iaido last summer and this was my first time testing.  Iaido is a Japanese sword martial art that focuses on drawing the sword from the scabbard, cutting down a certain number of opponents, and returning the sword to the scabbard.  Currently, I am just practicing the Seitei Gata, a set of 12 forms that were made by the All Japan Kendo Federation to help propagate iaido and is a standard by which people can be tested for rank.  They were also created from several different traditional sword schools and as a result, each form is very subtly different in terms of their reasoning behind certain movements.  But I digress.

The day began at 5 AM and I was on the road at 6, getting to the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute around 8.  After getting changed and settled in the gym, the seminar began by dividing everyone based on their current rank.  For me, since I didn’t have any, I was all the way at the far end.  Due to space constraints and the large number of people, two groups took turns practicing the forms and this went up to lunch and continued after we ate until mid-afternoon.  By then we began to get set up for the shinsa and I got my number (based on age and current rank if held).

Thankfully I had a low number so I was able to go in the second round.  I finished my forms without any serious mistakes but was still very nervous.  I found out a little later that I was selected to go a second time to try for 1st kyu.  I was able to maintain my composure but while doing ganmenatte, I ended up sliding my saya down my hakama!  I didn’t panic but I’m sure my heart skipped a beat and my eyes had to have noticeably gotten wider.  In any event, I finished the cuts but when it came down to doing noto, I had to take a little extra time to pull the saya out far enough to pop it out of my hakama.  From there everything went without a hitch but when I finished and stepped out of the gym I was really frustrated with myself.  I took a small comfort in hearing someone else did the same thing but theirs got stuck.

The rest of the evening was a bit of a blur as I watched the remaining people take their test and after waiting anxiously after packing up, the results were posted on the wall.  I found my name and saw that I was given the rank of 2nd kyu.  I was relieved that I made it at least that far and that my mistake hadn’t cost me too dearly but I would still like to know if I hadn’t made that mistake would I have gotten 1st kyu?  I’ll try to figure that out later but I’m just happy I didn’t completely fail.  Time to get back to training the basics.

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Relaxing

March 16, 2009

On Sunday, March 8, I participated in the 16 Annual Shidogakuin Tournament held at Rutgers University.  The morning primarily consisted of kyu through nidan shinsa so I spent most of it trying to relax and loosen up a little bit before the floor opened up for larger warm-ups.  Just as other tournaments I’ve been in, kids, mudansha, and women’s divisions went first, resulting in everybody from shodan and up waiting until early afternoon.  By then my legs felt like lead weights and my knees felt very stiff.  Leading up to my bracket, I tried to limber up again as best I could and when my match came up, I stepped in, and wasn’t prepared for what i was about to face.

The first thing I noticed about my aite was how he gave absolutely nothing away.  There was nothing I could pick up on at all.  His eyes were unwavering, his posture and shoulders barely changed when he moved, his shinai held chushin extremely well, and something else that I couldn’t identify.  Needless to say, the match was over in less than a minute (I checked) from two solid men uchi.  I could do nothing.

I spoke with my sensei afterwords and we both watched his succeeding matches and we both saw why he beat me so easily: he was completely relaxed.  No tension whatsoever in his shoulders, arms, or hands.  His face betrayed nothing and his entire kamae looked so effortless and allowed him to just flow seamlessly from standing in chudan to landing a solid strike.  Watching him, my sensei said that my speed probably is on par with him but his ability to relax is what beat me.  The rest of the day I replayed that match in my head and I tried to figure out where all my tension was coming from.  What was keeping me wound up and holding me back?

My first practice after the tournament I focused primarily on addressing this problem.  My first step was loosening my grip on my shinai which resulted in a significant reduction in tension in my arms and shoulders.  This combined with pushing forward with a stronger seme as I moved in to strike allowed me to land more successful strikes.  On top of that, I started to receive fewer wayward strikes on my arms and knuckles.  I continued this through all of this last week and when I visited Kyu Do Kan in Scarsdale, New York, I got much of that same feeling.  All of my keiko that day was with 7th dan, 6th dan, and 5th dan sensei’s and I definitely felt much better about my keiko than I have in a long time.  My seme, ashi sabaki, zanshin, and timing all seemed much sharper.  I also felt more patient and was able to gauge my opponent more acurately.

I think I’ve just found the tip of the iceberg here and now I can’t wait for the next practice so I can further experiment with my newfound relaxed state.