Membership is important

Membership is important. By that, I mean not only becoming a member of a dojo to practice and study with an actual sensei, but also joining your regional (and national) martial arts associations.

There are a lot of people out there who may not have access to a sensei or school in the style that they wish to study. For example, I’m guessing there aren’t a lot of kenjutsu schools and classes available in Central North Dakota. So what do those people do if they really want to study? Buy books and watch videos? You Tube?
I think that while these may be good sources for review, it’s pretty difficult for anyone to truly learn from this kind of media. The personal attention, small corrections in stance, hand work, and basic techniques can only be truly learnt from your sensei and constant monitoring / corrections.
Being a member of a dojo also brings other benefits as well. You’re part of a community of people (friends) who have a common interest (dare I say passion?) for something, and can support each other.
In my dojo, I am using the “senpai – kohai” philosophy that is common in not only martial arts, but education and work practices throughout Japan. The senior “senpai” assists and takes responsibility for their junior “kohai” during practice. If they notice some aspect of the kohai’s stance, technique, or etiquette that needs correction, they will assist in that. Kohai are encouraged to ask their senpai any simple questions that can be easily answered and are not necessary to go to the sensei about. Of course, as head instructor, I encourage anyone to come to me any time with their questions, but sometimes students can ask very simple things of their senpai and get a quicker answer if I’m tied up with another group.
So how do people who want to study and not have access to a dojo or instructor go about receiving instruction? That’s a hard one to answer. I know people in Japan who sometimes traveled for an hour or two on the train to get to their dojo, practiced for a couple of hours, and then rode back again. It wasn’t uncommon to see them do that twice a week. They were dedicated, and the commute wasn’t an issue.

I know the first place I’d look to see if there was anybody qualified to teach kendo or iaido would be the All US Kendo Federation web site. There’s a comprehensive list of dojo by region in there along with the contact information. There are also links to the regional sites as well. Our dojo is a member of the Midwest Kendo Federation. By going through these associations, you are guaranteed to receive quality instruction from a legitimate sensei.

Another option if you are unable to attend a dojo, would be to contact the closest dojo’s head instructor and inquire about private lessons, or possibly meeting at a midpoint somewhere on a weekly basis. It may be possible that an instructor would come halfway if there were a guaranteed number of students available to teach. Just a thought.

I encourage anyone interested in studying martial arts to go and shop around for dojo. Not all are the same – and not all instructors are the same or even the best qualified to teach. It seems in some systems that all you need is a “black belt” to open your own school. I wouldn’t settle for that, and serious practitioners shouldn’t either. Getting your black belt means simply that you’ve put in enough time to begin seriously studying.

Good luck, and remember membership IS important.


Confidence and ego are not necessarily the same, nor are they mutually exclusive. One must have confidence to work toward one’s dreams. However, one must not let accomplishment inflate the ego. The ego consumes entirely and clouds the mind. It drives one’s mind higher into the sky and farther from reality. Clouds and life have a tendency to rain. When this happens, your fire will be dampened, you will fall back to earth, and you will feel pain and remorse. Your clouded head will rain tears. However, rain and tears are part of a growing process. Yet, one must not allow oneself to drown in remorse. One must search for the truth of why one did not succeed, how one let oneself be so blind. That is the not-so-subtle difference between ego and confidence. Never forget this, or you will be reminded of it. Also, it is better to be reminded of it in the training hall than in life

The Purpose of Practicing Kendo

I was doing some reading the other day, and I thought that this was something that would be good to share. It refers to kendo, but really applies to iaido as well.

**The Concept and Purpose of Kendo**

**The Concept of Kendo**

The concept of Kendo is to discipline the human character through the application of the principles of the Katana (sword).

**The Purpose of Practicing Kendo**

The purpose of practicing Kendo is:

To mold the mind and body,

To cultivate a vigorous spirit,

And through correct and rigid training,

To strive for improvement in the art of Kendo,

To hold in esteem human courtesy and honour,

To associate with others with sincerity,

And forever pursue the cultivation of oneself.

This will make one be able:

To love his/her country and society,

To contribute to the development of culture,

and to promote peace and prosperity among all peoples.

The concept and purpose of Kendo was established by the All Japan Kendo Federation in 1975.

This would probably apply to most of the traditional martial arts in one way or another as well, but I thought that it really worth sharing.

Esaka Seigen Sensei – article

Going through some old material here, and I came across this which I posted a few years ago on the kendo-world site.

There was a recent blurb in the Japan Times newspaper about Esaka Seigen Sensei. Here it is:

He holds the highest rank, 10th dan, is vice-president of the Zen Nihon Iaido Renmei and has been practicing the art form for 50 years. In his spare time he likes to compose haiku, do calligraphy and philosophize about life.

Life is a series of moments. Each and every one is precious. With this mind-set, you treat any encounter with a person or thing as if it is the first, even if it isn’t.

Leave some water in the ladle for others. I like this famous Zen saying, which advises that even if you are thirsty you should not drink all the water, but should share what is left with other people.

We live among acquaintances and strangers. It’s important to try to get along with others and not exclude people. You will be able to achieve peace if you focus on having a harmonious frame of mind.

You ultimately have to stand on your own two feet. The essence of martial arts — or anything — is to become independent without relying too much on others or being affected by time or place.

I don’t want to create a clone of myself. As a teacher, I’d like to train somebody so that they surpass me, otherwise there will be no progress in the art form.

There are no enemies out there. Suspicion, surprise, arrogance, laziness, etc., are all enemies that reside in your heart, which is where all our enemies exist. That is why you should not blame others when you experience these feelings.

Wherever you are, that is your dojo- (place of practice). Any place in daily life is an opportunity to work on yourself, anytime and anywhere.

Be focused but not focused. In order to see the big picture you must make sure that your perspective doesn’t become too narrow. That is why it is important to keep the mind relaxed and loose.

People can only see within the scope of their own ability. This can be likened to being on the first floor of a building. If you raise your ability, you will be able to see things from a higher dimension, the second floor. It’s important to think about how you can achieve this.

Wisdom is a natural ability that you receive from your parents. As you refine your wisdom, it will start to spout out like water.

Put up with things — endurance can be a good thing. It makes a person more big-hearted. However, it is important to make sure that stress doesn’t build up, by letting it out little by little, so that you don’t “go off the deep end.”

Practice the art of checking. In iaido, you check until the very end, to make sure that your opponent has been completely defeated. This same mind-set can be used at work to, for example, check until the very last moment to make sure that you have not made any mistakes on a certain project.

You could be a diamond in disguise. If you don’t work on yourself, or “polish” your abilities, you will never be able to tell if you are a diamond or not. Even if you have good natural ability, if you don’t work on it, you’ll just end up being a rock.

I learn about responsibility from flowers and bonsai trees. The effects of any maintenance on them are immediately apparent, so that any laziness on my part makes them wither. I like the fact that they respond so honestly.

Bad habits don’t always have to be overcome. So long as they are socially harmless, they help to make you who you are, and may ultimately serve a good purpose.

Visualize what you want. Clearly depict in your mind the ideal way you want things to be, and then devise a method that can make that a reality. The rest just involves repeating this process, ensuring that you make revisions along the way.

Put pressure on yourself. People have a tendency to take the easy way out. But if you want to achieve your goals you have to be hard on yourself to a certain degree.


Core Con 2010 demo – a big success!

I’d like to personally thank Paul, Kelly, and Bert for all their help setting up and participating in the Core Con demo last Saturday.
We had a pretty good turnout for both the open discussion on Bushido, and especially the demonstration of iaido kata. Each member did excellent demonstrations of kata, and I think the audience enjoyed it very much. There were lots of good questions about the history of iaido/budo, the katana (Japanese sword), and iaido in general.

We demonstrated seven of the twelve All Japan Kendo Federation (Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei) seitei kata. Using bokuto (wooden swords) we broke down several of these, showing the functions of the kata and positions of the enemy. I think this helped the audience better understand the movements we were making and the underlying meanings of the patterns.

I performed several of the Musoshindenkoryu kata (dating back over 400 years) and answered questions about that.

Paul Dyer (4kyu) wrote up a brief article:
“A day to remember, a moment for the learning and sharing with others, the Moorhead iaido dojo presented a demonstration at the Core Con 2010. There are many reasons for people to attend this grand event, but one we do know is to understand the art of Bushido from the art form of iaido. Sensei Bradley Anderson developed an open forum of communication with the audience. Many asked questions, but very few understood the importance of patience and the meaning of Bushido. In the art of iaido, there is a quiet enemy within. The enemy becomes larger through our lifetime, and in the practice of iaido there is a battle of peace and unrest happening within our self. In iaido we study and learn how to defeat the unrest within ourselves. This was explained in the demonstration, both verbally and visually.”

“A warrior must cultivate the feeling that he has everything needed for the extravagant journey that is his life. What counts for a warrior is being alive. Life in itself is sufficient, self-explanatory and complete. Therefore, one may say without being presumptuous that the experience of experiences is being alive.”
~ Carlos Castaneda quotes

That’s about it for now.

Musoshindenryu Katas

Saturday’s practice was pretty good. There was a local festival in town with fireworks, so there were fewer people at the dojo and that gave us all a bit more space to practice in. It’s kind of scary sometimes to have so many people in such a small space, everyone swinging a katana.

Now that testing is over until March, we have started to focus again on the koryu katas. I started with the shoden katas and went through them man-to-man with my sensei.

The word “Shoden” can be translated as the “entry-transmission”, and was derived from the Omori-ryu Iaido. Omori-ryu was said to have been created by Hayashi Rokudayu Morimasa, the ninth headmaster of the Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu, who lived from 1661 until 1732. It has been included in the Muso Shinden Ryu at the entry level, and contains the following techniques:
1. Shohatto (初発刀)
2. Sato (左刀)
3. Uto (右刀)
4. Atarito (当刀)
5. Inyoshintai (陰様進退)
6. Ryuto (流刀)
7. Junto (順刀)
8. Gyakuto (逆刀)
9. Seichuto (勢中刀)
10. Koranto (虚乱刀)
11. Inyoshintai kaewaza (陰様進退替技)
12. Nukiuchi (抜打)
(Thanks to the Kensei Kensan Kai dojo for the above information)

For my 4dan test, I had to do 4 seitei katas (that the judges decided on that day) and one koryu kata of my choosing. I chose #5 Inyoshintai as my kata. If you want to see videos of any of these katas, click the link to the right labelled Kata Videos.

I really enjoy doing the koryu katas. They have a different feel to them then the seitei katas, and though similar in technique (seitei was originally derived from various koryu katas) have some very different situations and movements.

The chuden katas are also very interesting, and I especially like Ukigumo where you are sitting side by side with your opponent, and he reaches for your katana. You pull away, block, and then cut him front to backwards. The picture above is of that kata. I know it sounds gruesome, but that’s what the katas are all about. It’s the mindset you have while doing the katas that is important and the key to iaido.
More on that next time.

Why Iaido?

A lot of people have no idea of what iaido 居合道 really is. Even many of my Japanese friends have never heard of it. Simply put, it is the study of Japanese swordsmanship. Drawing the sword, striking, and then replacing the sword in the scabbard. That said, people have some idea of what it means.

To my Japanese friends, I say it is related to kendo 剣道. But while kendo is a sport, iaido is a (more spiritual) practice of kata using a katana 刀. Wikipedia actually has a lot of information about iaido and the different styles that people practice. I practice Musoshindenryu and the Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei seitei iaido katas as well.

Seitei iaido is considered “standard” iaido and therefore can be graded both in competitions and also for rankings. Regular koryu styles may not have a set ranking system, and so they often include the seitei katas in their program just for that purpose.

So, why did I want to study iaido? Well, before I came to Japan, I had studied a form of Okinawan Ryute Karate that I really enjoyed. It taught some weapons katas, but not the sword. I really wanted to study sword, and so when I had a chance to come to Japan, I decided that I would try to study a sword art.

I started with Kendo because there weren’t any iaido or kenjutsu teachers in the area where I was living, so I practiced man to man with my sensei about 3 or 4 times a week in the mornings. Rain or shine, snow or heat, I was down in that dojo practicing the art. It was hard, but thanks to my sensei’s patience and instruction, I was finally getting a handle on the basics of kendo. I got my 1st dan, and was ready to test for my 2nd dan when I moved to a new location.

After I moved, I continued to practice at a new dojo where I met some sensei’s who DID teach iaido. Finally, I was able to start studying what I had wanted to from the beginning. I didn’t realize at the time how many different groups or ryu’s there were, and so I sort of fell into the Musoshindenryu style. I later learned that there were also groups doing Muso Jikiden Eishin ryu and a batto-jutsu style called Toyama ryu.

I knew after my first few practices that this was something I was really going to enjoy learning, and the sensei’s and people in our dojo were all very kind. I was right. Now after 7 years of study, I have come to love the dojo, the art, and the beauty of the Japanese katana.

And I’m just beginning…