Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Japanese Sword Art FAQ

Why a sword ban could be beneficial to Martial Artists

Ok, so I've just scanned through this article:
which outlines that that the ban is on cheap "imitation blades which can be bought over the internet for as little as £35. "

Surely this is a good thing? This may assure a market within the UK of good quality blades for martial artists? How many times have you seen people with a crappy, cheaply made set of swords on a stand proudly displayed...? Why!? As ornament?
I thikn the the down side is that prices may go up. I do like practicing with a blade, but if I was forced by monetary constraints to practice with a bokku-to, then I would (and I have been in the past).

Snipped from article: "We recognise it is the cheap, easily available samurai swords which are being used in crime and not the genuine, more expensive samurai swords which are of interest to collectors and martial arts enthusiasts."

The govt knows there is a special case to be made for martial artists and collectors and we hope there will be adequate provision in legislation.

I am , however, slightly concerned when I read:"Under the proposals, the government will ban the import, sale and hire of Samurai swords from April 2008."
Does that mean places like Nine Circles (or other bona fide MA outlets) will be restriceted in the import of weapons? I guess not if they are making provision for we "enthusiasts" :-)

In another article outlining the impact on a retailer..."Blades-UK has an age verification system, and Mr Taylor (Blades' MD) says he does not sell to anyone under the age of 18. " But I don't think that age verification is enough is it? Surely some affiliation to a MA club could be asked for?

I am cautiously welcoming the proposal. As Faye Goodman remarked:"I am concerned. It depends on the small print. Martial artists using swords begin with a wooden one, progress to a blunt weapon and finally start using a razor-sharp blade."

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Koiguchi Repair

The habaki of the iaito is the collar of the sword which fits snuggly into the koiguchi, or the mouth of the saya. It should because of this tight fit, when fully sheathed, prevent the sword from tipping out and requires a push from the thumb to start the drawing process.

After much practice the sword feels loose in the saya as the bottom edge is worn away. To maintain this tightness a small piece of wood needs to be glued in place. This article outlines how I went about my koiguchi repair.

Firstly I found a nice piece of veneer: mine was cherry, a bit thick probably at about 4/5mm but I'd rather too thick than than too thin!

I cut a wedge shape out of the veneer and glued it in position with PVA wood glue and left it to dry. My tip for gluing is to use a pin! Squirting it directly form the bottle may end up in a blobby mess on your tiny bit of veneer!

Roughen the inside top edge of the saya and tap out the dust. Glue it in place and leave. Once it's dry simply use a file to bring it down to the desired level: remember it should help maintain the sword in the saya without it being too difficult to push out. Mine is a bit too stiff at the moment so I'm working it in slowly with some drawing practice.


Tuesday, 30 October 2007


Well the nerves and stress leading up to my first Shorinji Kempo grading were soon given over to relief and joking with my fellow 'Kenshi'... 10 minutes of techniques was sufficient to show what we had learned for the exam as each small group (ours consisted of 5 people ranging in age from 15 to 75!) had an instructor/examiner watching and marking as the grading progressed.

It's always nice to bond with others on grading day! Everyone is ready to help, to give advice and to practice together. What a superb feeling of comradeship!

The grading being on Saturday I trained last night, Monday, and our sensei gave us some feedback. This feedback can be summed up in two words: focus and awareness. Or Kiai and zanshin. It was felt that although technically the grading was successful there seemed a lack of spirit. This spirit manifests itself in the focus given over by the practitioners and also by the focus and kiai during techniques. This is something that anyone slightly trained in martial arts can pick up on- how does the room 'react'? Does it feel like there is focus and awareness. Do heads go down due to a missed technique or a forgotten zuki?

Well I was inspred by our sensei who said (quite rightly) nthat towards the end of the class it's easy to ease off, chat a bit, not focus as well. But if you persist throughout and aim for a state of zanshin then week on week it'll become much more a part of your training. Or more accurately a part of you!

I tried this last night-I put a lot of effort in and tried to remain focused on the task in hand.

Today, I ache. Hmm.

Maybe that's the ache of progress?

Uke nagashi

I worked a lot on this form (Uke nagashi, seitei #3) and picked up some good tips from the teachers.

Firstly start drawing the sword before raising the body up! Seems obvious, but I was failing to do this....

Also I wasn't bringing the sword up vertical enough as I step out with the left leg. One sensei miplied that the whole movement of uke nagashi was to bring the sword above the head into the blocking position as quickly as possible (which makes sense!) and as such bringing the sword in it's saya as vertical as possible helps this. The sayabiki is pulling downwards to release the sword. Don't pull the sword up and out as this locks the arm out and gives no further room for manouevre. Instead keep the elbow relaxed during the block as this helps the turn and subsequent cut.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007


Well, I turn 37 years old this week!
No, I'm not particularly sad, worried or nostalgic...that's just how it is!

But I haven't been as active recently as I would like, through one thing and another, so I'm feeling a bit crotchety....My aches and pains seem to be taking a front seat and I don't want them there! I guess using a laptop a lot of the time and being bent over like a paper clip doesn't help!

So this morning as the water for my green tea was heating up (not boiling!) I stood up straight and breathed in. Ah! That's better. I lengthened my spinal column upwards and felt a little yoga coming on...

So after a brief 15 minutes stretching and groaning with tightened pleasure I felt great. Centred. Once my body is 'reset' it feels like my mind is reset too. A better idea of myself. My awareness set for the day.

It's nice to stretch out at any point in the day: just recentring. Whilst wating for the kettle to boil, standing at the bus stop, riding a bike. Think of the posture and feel your body mechanics. This sort of feedback is essential for a sharp body and I think, a keen mind.

Thinking about my posture helps my body and mind.

Thinking of my birthday and I get....excited!

Sunday, 7 October 2007

A Personal Path

Everyone's path in life is different. But if you check out Shane Thomas' brilliant blog about why he studies martial arts you're bound to get some useful insights, reflections or comparisons on your own path:
It's well written and very engaging.

Shane is a Kyokushin Budokai practitioner and he has published a downloadable insight (in fact a beginner's guide) to Kyokushin Karate which not only covers techniques and kata but some well crafted history notes to karate, jui jitsu and judo. You can download it here:

Good martial reading to broaden one's knowledge.

Thanks Shane.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

The Dokun

-Rely on yourself, and not on others, for no-one is as reliable as your own well disciplined self.
-By committing evil you defile yourself. By avoiding evil you attain purity.
-In acquiring this art, we pledge to honour our founder and not betray our masters, to respect our elders, and not slight the young. As comrades, we pledge to help each other, and cooperate for the accomplishment of these teachings.
-We pledge to leave our past aside, and to devote ourselves to mastering the art as plainly and naively as infants.
-We pledge never to perform our art for selfish reasons, but for the benefit of all mankind.
-We are grateful that we are endowed with our souls from Dharma and our bodies from our parents. We determine to make every effort to return their blessings.
-We love our country, and determine to better the welfare of our people.
-We love justice, respect humanity, observe courtesy, keep the peace and determine to be true and brave.
-We strive to master the art, and discipline the body and soul. We love our comrades, and help each other. We co-operate, and endeavour to establish an ideal world.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

How to tie a shorinji kempo belt

The touch of other people

Last night at trianing I realised that a wonderful aspect of martial arts training is touch. Touching other humans and being close to them is good! Quite therapeutic really.

Obviously this isn't meant in a sexual way. Life seems so isolated at times- British people especially have a large personal space distance. They are said to be cold and reserved. But being close to someone and working through things with them towards a common goal feels good. Quite different from the feeling you get on the underground. On the tube you can be close to other people but usually cramped and squished up against each stressful!

It's a strange paradox as the touch involved is usually a precursor for martial arts techniques and therefore in some ways is adversorial. However the dojo is a safe, collaborative environment where people can learn and exchange ideas. That's why touch is so important. The feel of another human is important.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Following the difficult path

I find it hard to be told what to do. My daughters would probably find that a bit rich as I dish it to them (but they are under 6!), but I think it's hard for most people to accept criticism or a comment which flatly tells them: you are wrong!

I was faced with this is in iaido training this week. A sensei pointed out (in a very pleasant way I must stress) that what I was doing was fundamentally wrong. As I have already mentioned this smarted a little, but I embraced it. I had to! I knew if I was to get better: if my technique was to improve I had to heed sensei ("one who has gone/lived before". The term seems extremely well placed here. The implication is that this person has been there, done it, fallen over, got back up again and been allowed to wear the t-shirt). So I listen to these guys: they have a lot to say which I can learn from!

This also has implications for life in general. As a young man I tended towards the path of least resistance. I studied hard, don't get me wrong! Got good grades, future was bright and I'm content in my place. But frankly if it was a bit too difficult I'd find a shortcut. Or a way out, or do it, but not quite fully. But I know that if I don't do it properly it'll come back and bite me later. Maybe I'll have to redo it again (properly!) or in not choosing the hard path I won't have learned! So this may seem abstract but if I give you a couple of examples, it may be clearer what I mean....

I enjoy cycling home and sometimes my route takes me either up a hill or round the back. I usually end up slogging up the hill because I know it'll help my conditioning, make me sweat (and if nothing else feel virtuous! :-) It makes me stronger thanks to that little bit of effort! And I feel good after doing it. If the job is worth doing- it's worth doing properly!

Of course there is a counterpoint to this: why stand up when you can sit down? And yes of course efficiency of movement is essential in the martial arts. In an ever developing and inquisitive mind, though I find it helps to push myself in order to improve within training. Ask those difficult and embarrassing questions because if I don't....I'll never know the answer! Push myself a bit harder because if I don't, my technique will never improve. If you feel tired and want to sit down for a cuppa, do 5 more repetitions and see how it makes a difference!

Monday, 20 August 2007

Same, same....but different!

Shorinji Kempo tonight was, well: same, same but different! When I travelled to Vietnam with my wife we encountered many excellent salesmen all selling very similar items and each one wanting you to buy from them rather than their rivals. As a result, if I asked if something they were selling was the same as the one sold in a shop I'd seen or by another vendor they would reply: "Yes, yes. Same, same....but different"!

I have studied martial arts in one form or another for almost 20 years. I started with Goya Ra Ru at university (now split into Tetsudo and Goya Ra Ru), then started Tang Soo Do when I was living in Belgium. I started this based on the leaflet that came through my door at the time when I was thinking about continuing my martial studies. The leaflet said: "Venez vous entrainer, sans perdre la sourire". Excellent philosophy I thought!

And this brings me to Shorinji Kempo: also a striking art with elements of locks, twists and throws. Same as Tang Soo Do really? Erm, well no. My point isn't to highlight the differences, just that tonight whilst practicing moving kihon (joined moves of blocks, kicks and punches) I found it hard work! Mostly because everything I knew and had trained hard for during many years was very similar....but not quite what was needed. The movements felt right but I executed them clumsily. Thinking too much. The sensei emphasised the need for good flowing attacks, not stilted 1-2-3 moves. My partner obliged and finally it started to flow. His point was that your if the attack is fast, flowing and determined, then your reactions take over and this can in fact help refine your technique.

I got a lot from tonight's training: after being frustrated because it was similar to what I had known but different enough (in terms of focus and strategy) for me to stumble through the first exercises, then through a slight moment of clarity when it flowed as it should...

Training week...

Back to training after the holidays is always a good feeling! You might say that there is never a 'holiday' from training as it is a constant process. I did indeed pick up a bokkuto over my break and slipped in other elements of my training, but I enjoyed kicking back and pandering to my children's needs!

So back to it!

Monday was Shorinji Kempo training which was a good learning session! I was injured slightly on my thumb which is a pain (in more ways than one)... as I'm constantly reminded by the niggling pain in my hand when implementing the techniques and I think my practice suffers somewhat. I try to push it out of mind in order to get a full training session.

We white belts were spoiled to have a Japanese Dan grade take us through our syllabus which is:

-Uchi uke zuki
-Mae ryusui geri
-Ushiro ryusui geri
-Uwa uke geri

-Kote nuki
-Yori nuki
-Gyaku gote
-Ude juji

I don't know what it is about languages. I'm really a good linguist: I speak fluent French and have good working (basic) knowledge of Dutch, German and Swedish but when it comes to plugging in a Japanese name to the correct part of my brain which tells me what those moves actually are I seem to undergo a short circuit! I know the techniques quite well but fire the name at me in Japanese and I stumble and stutter! Well I'll just have to comit them to memory. The solution is to reinforce these names over and over again till it's second nature. I don't want to get to a grading and show myself and my teacher up so I WILL learn them. I know people who, for example, say: "I don't do DIY because I'm no good at it". That's rubbish frankly. We're not born with a predisposition for or against something. Some people may have a natural ability for that subject but in the face of a difficult subject that has to be conquered then applying oneself thoroughly and systematically will help! To give in and say: " well I'm no good at it" is just laziness. Work hard at it and it'll come.

Hmmm, let me see. Free Japanese lessons.......

Friday, 20 July 2007

Kesa Giri - Tough Iaido training

Well it was a tough training session yesterday. My mind is exploding from it. You think you've nailed a form (haha) and then the teacher just points out one or two things.... (sighs)

So we started the iai with Mae. Firstly I was shown that it's important not to collapse the elbow in at O chiburi. I tend to flatten the wrist and lose the cutting grip and bring the elbow forward first. If the cutting grip is maintained the chiburi can be executed correctly and with much less effort. Equally the tip of the blade must advance over the wrist and the elbow should follow. I was tending to bring forward the elbow and flick down with the hand.

More practice!

But the real penny dropper moment came during Kesa giri. The beautiful standing form which cuts up and then down through the kesa line. After these cuts the tip is brought immediately up whilst stepping back into hasso gamae. (Tsuba at mouth level!) It was here that I was shown the importance of maintinaing the cutting grip- if this grip is kept then the chiburi can be executed. If the hand flattens (as in my O chiburi!!!) then correct chiburi can't be made. PING! Oh yeah. I didn't realise that before.....

My teacher once said that iai practice isn't cutting with a sword. It's everything-it cultivates an attitude towards life. See the bigger picture and have your vision and goals by all means but take care of the detail and make sure you do the job properly. If it's worth doing it at all then do it well! If you decide to do something then you may as well set out to do it well! Why choose to do something then make a half hearted effort at it. It makes no sense. Stay focused on the task at hand and do it well.

(This ripped from web somewhere:)

Bart- "Dad I gave up playing the guitar because it was too hard- I hope your not mad."
Homer- "Son, if something is too hard to do then it's not worth doing. Just put the guitar in the cupboard along with your short wave radio and karate oufit and we'll go inside and watch TV."
Bart- "What's on?"
Homer- "It doesn't matter."

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Training with a strong, sweaty partner

This week's training in Shorinji Kempo seemed difficult. It was a hot evening and I'd made the mistake of eating quite close to our training times and I had an upset stomach. All of these things contributed to my state of mind and the approach I had to the session the other night, but another factor made for an interesting session also: a strong, sweaty partner!

After kihon training we grouped up and started working on a wrist grab and release: yori nuki.

So we started off pacing through it but very soon my partner wanted to execute this technique much quicker, but the effect of the sweat and the fact that he is much stronger (with bigger hands) meant that he just popped out of it easily each time! To his credit he realised this and backtracked which I felt was important. Getting to grips (pardon the pun) with the true essence of the technique is the only route to mastery. Skip those subtle elements now and your technique will develop a shallowness which may not stand up to pressure.

Take for example a simple kick: front kick. Beginners tend to scoop their foot straight up in order to kick skipping the intermediary bent knee position. Even some more experienced karateka have the tendancy to execute a good kick outward but pose the foot straight back down without coming back to this halfway 'cocked' position.

So I'm endeavouring to get to the heart of the technique right from the outset otherwise I'll get into bad habits.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Music and focus

I studied art to A level and loved it! It helped that our sixth form teacher was a passionate artist, well known locally, and his lessons never failed to inject us with enthusiasm.

One day I heard that while we were all sketching outside (as we'd been told to) Big Sharpey had been admonished by Big Bob Watson for wearing his Walkman. Remember those?- Yup the things that used to play cassettes? I know it seems unreal but there you are. That was the 1980s. Mr Watson wanted Sharpey to feel the atmosphere, hear all the sounds which really add up to the illustrative experience. Feel it and it'll come out in the art.

Anyway we were all on Sharpey's side of course. Well he was our chum. And he was big! We didn't really get what Big Bob (er, I mean Mr) Watson really meant by this seemingly killjoy attitude.

But I do now. I own an ipod and I love music (don't get me started!) but if not carefully listened to music becomes part of the background, numbing the senses (not only the hearing!) so that neither the music is really enjoyed, nor the activity being partaken of. I still need music but there are moments when an appreciation of stillness is needed. That's why I don't listen to music while practicing martial arts. So I can hear and feel everything and be completely lost in the moment of my experience. That's true training. Full commitment to the task in hand.

So Bob Watson didn't realise he was a martial artist. Maybe he didn't realise he had a warrior spirit but he certainly had an appreciation of the moment.

Thanks Bob.

Cross training in the martial arts

I don't think any martial art is 'pure'. In fact most of the modern oriental martial arts (in my opinion) descend from Chinese martial systems spread throughout Asia by trade routes. Interestingly I even read that Okinawan 'te' was thus created. As you know this is the granddaddy of karate. Okinawan te was originally called Te-gua. Very close to the Chinese 'Pak-gua'. I appreciate that Karate has evolved a lot and taken on a very Japanese 'flavour', but it certainly has roots in China. II read that 'Yawara' was the only native Japanese martial art which was a kind of battlefield combat giving us today sumo, jiu jitsu, judo and by extension aikido.

And of course, Shorinji Kempo is in fact a very blended art form, its name meaning Shaolin Fist! So I do agree that there has been a lot of cross fertilisation for arts to have developed into what they are now and that's where cross training is good: testing or developing the technique. But I (quite openly) train in SK for the personal development, not to become good at self defence. Most stylised martial arts (in my opinion) aren't great at 'self defence'. If you want to learn about self defence go to a Krav Maga or Systema lessons (which I studied for many years). But for me that's not what I want. Sure I enjoy the physical training of the body, partner training and the free form randori in SK but it's all in to an end of training my senses and mind. (It could be argued that this does help in self defence, but for me that's just a nice to have by-product!)

So yes, I think cross training is great if you want to develop 'your' own self defence style but for me I have a single minded purpose in training but it's taken me nearly 20 years to get there!