Senpai as Sensei

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been having my students all “teach” a kata that they feel they know well.

We’ve been using the ZNKR Seitei iaido series, but I’ve done this in the past with our koryu Musoshindenryu as well.

It’s been a great experience both for myself and the rest of the dojo members as well as we switch roles and take turns showing the other members not only our unique style of teaching, but also the self-realization that comes with having to explain something as you’re doing it with specific attention to detail.

TylerSenpai
Tyler Teaching Ukenagashi

Methodology

Each student-teacher would have 10-15 minutes to self-practice and brush up on the kata, how they want to present it, and the kata-specific grading points found in the Seitei iaido manual. Then the Senpai would demonstrate the kata with the appropriate timing. Next, they would teach / demo more slowly pointing out specific points to watch for, foot positions, blade positions, etc. There would be a review of the grading points either from memory or the book itself. Then the Senpai would lead the group through the kata at least twice. During or before the Q/A, I would offer specific comments that were to add clarification or emphasize any additional specific points that were either relevant for grading or the performance of the kata. The senpai would lead the group through one more round as I observed, final comments, and then we’d move on to the next person to lead.

Every person took a turn, and I can safely say that every version of the methodology of how to teach a kata was as unique as the Senpai presenting it.

Group Ukenagashi

Takeaways

What I heard from everyone was:

  1. It was a good experience because it forced people to focus on the points and explain them as they’re doing them instead of just “going though the motions.”
  2. That focus really required specific though on footwork, positioning, angles, cuts, and all of the kihon that go into a kata.
  3. The grading points in the book were sometime more or less than what they’d believed for the specific kata.
  4. It was challenging.

What I noticed was:

  1. We all learn and teach differently – some by using more words and some by using/hearing less words combined with more actions. When I learned the kata originally from Takeda sensei in Japan, my “Budo Japanese” was pretty poor, and so I had to rely on learning from sight, visualization and emulation, correction, and repetition.
  2. There’s no “one way” to teach something or reach a specific point.
  3. My students focus on specific points in kata could be very different from my own. This isn’t a bad thing, just different. Points that I considered very critical to the execution of the kata were less emphasized by some Senpai, whereas they emphasized some things that I rarely did. I will learn from this and consider my methodology as I go forward.
  4. Kihon is extremely important. Specifically consistency in correct kihon. We will need to work on this a bit. Examples being cut and swing, chiburi, and noto.
  5. It was nice to be a student for a change.

I look forward to incorporating this type of practice more in the future as I think it’s a valuable way to mix things up a bit.

While Sensei is Away

While sensei is away…
I was unable to make class last week due to other family commitments, but I had full confidence that my classes would be run and taught well while I was gone. My two senior senpai Kelly J Maier and Michael Schuldt do an excellent job of filling in when needed, and I know I can depend upon them to instruct the other students in the manner consistent with myself.

I think it benefits everyone to be put into a leadership position.

It benefits the senpai, because teaching also adds insight and wisdom into your own techniques. Sometimes showing something to others reveals flaws in our own techniques, which we can correct.

It benefits students, because they’re hearing things from a different person in perhaps a different way. Sometimes impact is added to the message if it’s delivered differently. Also, when senpai lead, they sometimes do drills or activities that we haven’t done in a while or try something new and that brings variety and growth as well.

I’m very happy that I know I can trust the senpai to lead while I’m gone.

A Huge List of Iaido Links!

Over the years I’ve come up with quite a list of favorite martial arts related sites to visit and articles to read.
Here are a few of the places I regularly wander into:

Kendo World forum – a lively forum of serious kendo and iaido practitioners where people of any level can ask questions and discuss the Japanese Sword Arts. http://www.kendo-world.com/forum/

Sword Forum International – another active forum where sword lovers and martial artists can discuss related topics. Open for European as well as Asian swords and arts. Lots of good things here, and often a crossover from the KW forum as well. http://www.swordforum.com

Kenshi247.net – An excellent and well written blog by a kendo and iaido practitioner that often discusses the history and traditions of JSA. Lots of translations of Japanese texts and articles by famous kenshi. Very excellent reading! http://kenshi247.net

Some of my favorite readings from this blog are:
http://kenshi247.net/blog/2011/03/25/i-am-a-deshi/
http://kenshi247.net/blog/2009/01/12/the-student-teacher-relationship-seitei-and-traditional-iai/
Excellent article on tameshigiri: http://kenshi247.net/blog/2011/01/28/thoughts-on-tameshigiri-from-famous-swordsmen/

Kim Taylor’s iaido listserv and articles – http://ejmas.com/ Be sure to check some of the links on his page, his Unka blog and others listed there are excellent as well.

Koryu website – lots of books and other related articles – http://koryu.com/

YouTube links

Kendo Kata http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Fx5Ts9i-MM

Jodo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=biSJdRuR6i0&feature=related

Aggasiz Dojo – Channel http://www.youtube.com/user/MusoshindenryuDojo
This includes our Standing and Sitting Reiho videos with instructions.

June 2011 Rank Test videos
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_eCb_Ox6r0
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJ-H-YsJ8_w

Kelly’s CSI Samurai spoof http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJNy5m0UOe0

Cuts of the Sugarplum Fairy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cXhzN_IuIo

Nakayama Hakudo video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A4ImhjM8l9g

Kuroda Sensei doing an iaido demo – Very fast nukitsuke!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t93ThAl7M00

Bokuto kihon waza http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVzHMNJ6NKg

Very interesting videos for kumitachi Musoshindenryu. Well worth a look!
http://www.jikidenshinkai.de/chuden_kata/kumitachi.html

This is just the first batch. I’ll be adding to this as I find things or other people recommend sites to me. Please let me know of any missing or broken links.

Thanks!

Brad

December Newsletter

Motivating to Practice

As we move through December, I find myself feeling tired, stressed, and busy. I suppose it’s the holiday shopping, plans and preparations, school programs, work and social events and parties, and the North Dakota sub-zero temperatures that all contribute to that.

When I feel this way, I tend to want to just sit down, relax, veg in front of the TV and turn off my brain for awhile. BUT, I know that by going to the dojo, putting on the hakama, and having a good focused practice works pretty well to get me out of my “holiday funk.”

It can take a lot of effort to get myself there, but once I’ve finished a good practice, I feel so much better. All of my stress is gone, and the tiredness I feel is a physical one that follows from a good workout. So, if you find yourself feeling this “funk”, get thee to the dojo! I promise you won’t regret it.

Dojo Move

As I’ve mentioned in previous newsletters, we’re going to be moving out of Moorhead, MN into Fargo, ND. The temporary space we’re in now has been a good setting, but we’re moving into a newly refurbished building just over the river in Fargo. We’ll still continue to share the facility with Kyoshi Mike Cline and the Hidden Teachings of RyuTe Karate school as we do now. Practice nights will still be Wednesday from 6:30 to 9:30 with the occasional Saturday morning.

I’m not sure when the new space will be finished, but I’ve heard that we’ll be in early in the new year.

Of course, now we really can’t call ourselves the “Moorhead Dojo” anymore, can we? Should we be the F/M dojo? Red River dojo? (Grins) MoFa dojo? After much thought, some discussion, and more thought, I’ve decided to rename our dojo to the, “Musoshindenryu Iaido – AGASSIZ dojo.”

For people not from this area, that may raise a few eyebrows and the question of “Where the heck is Agassiz?” Well, if you check Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Agassiz you’ll see that Lake Agassiz was actually a glacial lake left from the last ice age that covered a huge area of Central North America. Its area was larger than all of the modern Great Lakes combined, and it held more water than contained by all lakes in the world today. (Really!)

Our Fargo-Moorhead region falls into the Southern tip of that glacial area, and so I thought it was a good name. I suppose in Japanese, we could call it Agassiz-ko Dojo, though I doubt I’d be able to find a kanji that would be appropriate. Maybe there’s a kanji that refers to glaciers? Hmmm….

Anyway, welcome to the first Agassiz dojo newsletter!

Koryu is fun!

On Saturday I had a chance to run through the Musoshindenryu Okuden suwari-waza down at the dojo.

It had been a while since I’ve performed those kata, and I really enjoyed going through the base set, and then the variations that I know as well.

I can’t say that I have a favorite kata in the set, but tanashita is always popular when I do it at demos. The scenario is that you’re under a bridge and there’s a sentry near the opening that you have to dispatch. Another version I’ve heard of is sneaking under a house that’s raised on stilts.

Being a bit taller, when I perform this kata, it doesn’t have the same “cool” look as with a smaller statured person. When my sensei, Mr. Takeda performs it, it’s really a fun kata to watch.

It wasn’t until last October when I was exposed to the paired kumitachi kata of MSR/MJER called “Tachi uchi no kurai.” During the Thunder Bay seminar, Kim Taylor sensei showed a couple of us the first ten of these kata, and we were able to practice the first two. What a lot of fun! Since then I’ve been reviewing some of the video and images I have of these kata, and hope to be able to work on them with my own students.

Paired kata like these not only teach “ma-ii” or distance between opponents, but also allow us to practice “seme,” or (psychological) pressure as we move and push the other opponent backwards with our “ki” and presence. Plus, it’s just a lot of fun to do kata where we can whack at each other with bokuto (in a safe and controlled manner of course)!

While I do enjoy seitei iai, and the opportunity it affords us to compete and test for rank, I really do enjoy the koryu aspect of my training more. It seems to be more cohesive as we move through the different kata, and they seem to complement each other more than the kata in seitei.

I found some information from Wayne Muramoto about the history and origin of the seitei kata we perform. Paraphrasing.

The first seven seitei kata, were derived from various koryu iai schools. The first two kata, Mae and Ushiro, came from the Omori-ryu. The third, Ukenagashi, was from kata found in the Omori-ryu and the Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu. The fourth kata, Tsukaatte, was similar to tate hiza techniques of the Eishin-ryu. Then the next kata, Kesagiri, was derived from the Hoki-ryu. The Morotezuki kata was a thrusting technique found in many different iai schools.

As the teaching of the seitei iai was refined, it was decided to add three more kata to further round out a student’s training. The eighth kata, Ganmenatte, was derived from the Muso Shinden-ryu oku iai methods. Soetezuki came from a famous Hoki-ryu technique, and the tenth kata, Shihogiri, was also from a Hoki-ryu kata. Two more were then added again later. Number eleven, Sougiri is from MJER/MSR Soumakuri, and number twelve, Nukiuchi is from a Mugai ryu waza called Gyokkou.

Maybe it’s because of this variety of origins and styles for the twelve seitei kata, I feel the transitions between the MSR kata (when done in order) to be more natural.

I’ve read different places where people say that the paired kata should be taught to a much higher level of student – to one who has had experience learning the standard suwari-waza and tate-hiza kata. Based on my experience from kendo, I think I would have to disagree. We learned kendo kata from the beginning of our training, and it was in fact a requirement for rank testing. The two aspects I mentioned earlier about maii and seme are something that the iai practitioner is weak in, simply because there isn’t an opponent there to practice against. The paired kata can lend this missing element to our training to complement and complete it.

Plus, it’s a lot of fun whacking at each other with bokuto.

Fargo All Martial Arts Seminar

Members of the (then) Moorhead dojo participated in the Fargo All Martial Arts Seminar and Cancer Beneift in November. It was a very interesting seminar with lots of opportunities for participants and audience members to try some “hands-on” technique.

We demonstrated some Seitei and Musoshindenryu kata, and then invited members of the audience to come up and cut newspaper with bokuto. Everyone enjoyed that, and we had some pretty good cutters!

I attended the rest of Saturday’s seminar and really enjoyed trying some of the self-defense techniques firsthand. We learned some very good, practical techniques to use against common “attacks” or situations that people might find themselves in.

Good job to Paul Dyer who organized this worthwhile event. It was interesting and fun to attend and be a part of.

Upcoming stuff

New Year’s party. The details will be announced later, but we’ll be having our dojo member’s party in early-mid January. Likely it will be a potluck like last year, and we’ll probably watch a sword/culture again. Last year we saw the most awesome, Highlander. “There can be only one!”

Maybe this year we’ll go with 13 Assassins, or even Mr. Baseball, a very funny but Japanese culturally significant movie.

Rank Testing. This also will likely be in early-mid January during a regular class. I think that the majority of our members will be testing this round, so it will likely take all class. Tentatively I’m thinking

CoreCon in April – Moorhead/Fargo.

AUSKF Iaido Summer Camp 2012 – Tacoma Washington in Late June

Aggasiz Dojo Annual Seminar – Maybe July or August

That’s about it for now. I want to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Brad

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.
Brad