Friday 25 January 2008

Mirror polishing (Meikyo)

Well the past few sessions of iaido have brought me turmoil and seen me agitated somewhat. Last night I was determined to concentrate on the iai and not let the knocks daze and confuse me.

My resolve was soon broken when during the practice the sensei pulled me up on a few things. Actually I found he was hovering over me somewhat and picking me up - passing over others who were making glaring mistakes! Agh! I was in a real huff. The more he did it the more I blew my cool, the more I fouled up. Now there is a flip side to this. Many really.

My main feeling is that this is probably just my reaction- the way I am: hyper sensitive. Don't take it to heart man! But what about my resolve, my focus? Is it shattered that easily? What a sap. What would my sensei have said if I'd whinged: " Why me?". Well, he may well have retorted that it is somewhat of a compliment to attract the attention of one's teacher. 6th Dan no less! Making time for me! The fact that it was criticism is just a detail. Criticism is part of teaching is it not?

Staying focused on what I'm doing rather than checking out other people's technique won't make my iai any better. Certainly not if I'm denigrating others: finding fault in their iai to make me feel better about myself or justify my feelings of doubt and self satisfaction. Christians have a saying about planks and splinters (Luke 6:42)- quite apt to meditate on just now...
But I sucked it up as they say in the States. Suck it up man, suck it up. You know: Ouch! Just been punched in the gut. It hurts, your breath is caught but you don't want to show it. YOu make a sucking noise, turn red, stand up straight. I sucked it up. Refocused and was back on track. I determined to take on board the points and get the hell on with it.

So what was I so upset about? Ah well it was all this bloody detail-just a fraction over here, do this not that. Hey I'm co-operating here! It was only during the course of the lesson that I realised that that's what it's all about in iai. Maybe not all, but quite a lot of it is about the detail. Getting it right, the constant striving towards that state. Every day we polish the mirror a little otherwise the dust will gather.

So I stopped griping like a spoiled kid and started polishing.

And I had a good session and learned a lot.


Monday 21 January 2008

Feeling good!

As I made the toad in the hole tonight for dinner I felt suddenly quite tired. I'd not slept well the previous night and I'd cycled my youngest daughter to playgroup this morning so I wasn't surprised when I felt fatigued on coming home from picking up my eldest daughter! I was, however, surprised when I at the start of training tonight i perked up. Usually this lethargy brought on by sleep deprivation and general busy-ness gets me down during training, seeping in to my mind and my body. I try and re focus and bring in zanshin into my training and it does help. But tonight I felt, well ... good! My idea is that it's likely due to the fact that I've stepped up my aerobic training generally. More running, more cycling, more healthy!

So all that pain and discomfort from pounding the pavement seems to be paying off!

Saturday 19 January 2008

Ouch. Iaido hurts....

Hurts my ego, that's what Iaidio hurts. I find it difficult being told my iai is poor. I don't feel angry or aggressive towards the critic rather disappointed in myself or my performance. My good friend John thinks I'm hyper critical of myself and I think he's probably right. I need to find a balance between pushing myself towards an idea of perfection and trying to live like that and not being devastated if I drop off the path. Just get back up and back on...

And this is what I'm writing about. After two difficult iaido sessions I was driving home and felt glum. "I'm not going next week", I thought for about 2 seconds then in a sudden flash of realisation I shook my head to rid myself of that thought! Last week I my mind was unfocused, no zanshin, and certainly no mushin. I was so worked up I felt all hot and bothered and my mind kept wandering to the thought of global warming. This came about as I looked at the dark windows with mud streaks on them; for a moment I was fooled into thinking it was rain: but no rain! Mild weather for January, ergo: global warming. Consequently no mushin. Boo! The sadder aspect of this for me is that I didn't focus and get on with my iai. It affected my iai.

So this week came around and I was determined to diligently work through my setei iai. This was a good beginning mind set and I went about it seriously. Until sensei picked me up on something. You think I'm being petty? Well let me tell you- I think I was too! As ever he was kind and informative and coached me through Shihogiri and my ego was bruised. But there is no place for ego in the dojo. Especially when there are so many masters who have gone before who have shown humility towards younger and less experienced students. My lesson has been learned. I need to implement it now, next time my wanders. I wonder what the weather is like later....

  • The first strike with the hilt must show real intent to forestall the attacker. Large and powerful movement quickly executed!
  • Draw the sword out and up to threaten this first opponent, with good sayabiki, the the threat is maintained. Once the sword is released and out at chest level, pivot the feet, do not step out.
  • Thrust second opponent, strike first opponent, cutting him down.
  • With a feeling of moving through ukenagashi the hands move up and back (or to the left of the head) as the body turns and moves towards third opponent. If an opponent was striking down at this time the body will already be moving away.
  • Turn through waki gamae. Note: turn sword down first then body follows.
  • Strike down fourth opponent.
  • Return to jōdan-gamae. Crucially keep seme on the opponent and raise the tip of the sword first, as if cutting upwards along the centre line of the stricken man (in my case my opponent is a man)
Also see pp258-268 Japanese Swordsmanship-Technique and Practice by Warner and Draeger.

Wednesday 9 January 2008

The Sword

I'm reading a book about signs and symbols. This is an are which fascinates me. For me it's linked to the development of communication and written language. How did we develop writing systems which were pictographic, or a picture of say a cow... to the written letters forming the word cow! Interestingly the letter 'a' which derives from the Hebrew aleph for bull doesn't feature in the word cow or bull!

Anyway- I digress... My eye alighted rather on the article in the book regarding swords! Swords which stand for power and virilty with their phallic form. He who holds the sword upright and threatens is to be feared! Perhaps I'm over-egging the virile element of a sword. After all, I'm not quite sure what other form a sword could take, other than phallic! There are some Bronoze Age Celtic swords which were 'leaf' shaped, but all in all it's a big metal stick with a pointy end :-)

Interestingly the sword is used when honouring Knights to bestow honour and authority but the book also says the sword can be seen as a symbol of purification. I wonder whether warriors of old thought of their swords as a purifier-cleaving the enemy in two to 'purify' them! Maybe. Maybe not....

The sword is often a violent symbol of death and power.

Japanese swordsmen do have, however, a slightly different take on this called Satsu Jin Ken / Katsu Jin Ken, or life-taking sword / life-giving sword. When the sword is applied without discipline it is destructive or Satsu Jin Ken but with experience and ability the master of the sword can resolve matters without the drawing of the sword, or by the re-sheathing of the sword to show an intention of peace. This is Katsu Jin Ken. Iaido is in fact a non-combatative mental discipline as much as it a physical one. Iaido is the art of drawing the sword but futhermore can be seen as "the way of mental presence and immediate reaction"(ref: wikipedia), thus we see the handling of the sword in a thoroughly peaceful way for the personal development of the practitioner.

Life taking and life giving sword.