Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Iai seminar with Carl Long Sensei

Our next Iai seminar with Long Sensei will be held at the Big Green Drum Dojo in Pensacola, FL on March 5, 6 & 7, 2010.

Please put these dates on your calendar and make plans to attend. No matter how talented you are, Seminars with Long Sensei are always an amazing opportunity to learn something new, or to refine your practice.

Monday, November 23, 2009


In my precedent post I quoted an interview of Nakamura Sensei - in which he explained his distrust of a particular way to support a sword blade with the open hand. To illustrate his point he was explaining how a Japanese Master of Kenjutsu had in this way cut his fingers when he assassinated a political opponent in 1935.

I want to make it very clear here, that I am absolutely not approving of the use of Martial Arts in general, and swordsmanship in particular, to hurt or kill other sentient beings.

Some of the posts on this blog are very technical with a pedagogical content, and mostly intended for actual students of one way.
As a teacher I often use historical anecdotes or even jokes to help students memorize details of techniques and moves.

Some of my readers, not involved in Martial Arts might have from this post inferred that I approve of assassination, or of using sword to kill other sentient beings. This is not the case, and if I mislead you in that direction, I apologize for it.

My goal is to reconcile Buddhism and Martial Arts to get past the apparent contradiction between the ideal of compassion and violence. I believe in the potential of Martial Arts to transform ourselves, providing they are skilfully taught and practiced, as was for example Karate in the traditional society of Okinawa at the beginning of the 20th century.

In the following weeks, I intend to post on MUSHIN - commonly translated as "Empty Mind" - a concept or state at the heart of Zen and Budo Practices.

MUSHIN has sometimes been used as a justification for terrible actions by Japanese warriors and soldiers during the first half of the 20th century.

It is important for students of the Ways to realize what Mushin really means.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Iwanami - spare your fingers...

Nakamura Taizaburo was born in 1912. He began his study of kendo at the age of 15; when he joined the Imperial Army in 1932 he was already 3rd dan in both kendo and judo. After teaching kendo to the officers and noncommissioned officers of his regiment, Nakamura sensei was assigned to a boy's military academy as a fencing instructor; during this time he also studied Omori Ryu iaido. Later, Nakamura sensei was selected to attend the Army Toyama Academy where he became an instructor of actual-combat swordsmanship, bayonet, and knife fighting. He was dispatched to Manchuria as a "special fencing teacher" and instructed members of the select Yamashita Special Attack Force.

He founded the All Japan Toyama Ryu Iaido Federation and has been the Senior Master of Toyama Ryu until his death in 2003. In 1952 he founded the Nakamura Ryu.

In this excerpt from Thoughts on Iaido published by Dragon Tsunami Sensei Nakamura makes an interesting (and gruesome) point about the actual use of a waza similar to our MJER Iwanami

There are techniques in which the palm of the left hand is placed along the back ridge of the blade. These are ineffective and are a waste of time and dangerous. A case in point is that of Lieutenant Colonel Aizawa who cut his fingers employing this type of technique. Aizawa once had been a kenjutsu teacher at the former Army Toyama Academy and was an expert in kendo and bayonet fencing. In 1935, using his western model service saber, he assassinated the head of the Military Affairs Bureau, Major General Nagata (this action preceded the February 26 Revolt of 1936). After failing to kill the general with three cuts, Aizawa placed his left palm on the back of his sword at the mid point, assumed a bayonet fencing "half-right stance" and thrust strongly with his right hand, skewering the general completely through from back to front. This technique is very similar to the All Japan Iaido Federation's fifth form called "kissaki kaeshi" and Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu's "Iwanami". Aizawa cut all four fingers of his left hand to the bone. He later stated, "As a Toyama Academy fencing instructor, I was disappointed and embarrassed that I was unable to cleave the general in two with one stroke."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Meditation could help Attention Disorders

Giuseppe Pagnoni, PhD, Emory assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and co-workers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine changes in blood flow in the brain when people meditating were interrupted by stimuli designed to mimic the appearance of spontaneous thoughts. The study shows that experienced Zen meditators can clear their minds of distractions more quickly than novices.

The study realized in 2008 compared 12 people from the Atlanta area with more than three years of daily practice in Zen meditation with 12 others who had never practiced meditation.

While having their brains scanned, the subjects were asked to focus on their breathing. Every once in a while, they had to distinguish a real word from a nonsense word presented at random intervals on a computer screen and, having done that, promptly “let go” of the just processed stimulus by refocusing on their breath.

The authors found that differences in brain activity between experienced meditators and novices after interruption could be seen in a set of well defined areas of the brain.

After being interrupted by a word-recognition task, experienced meditators’ brains returned faster to their pre-interruption condition. This suggests that the regular practice of meditation may enhance the capacity to limit the influence of distracting thoughts. This skill could be important in conditions such as attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety disorder and major depression, characterized by excessive rumination or an abnormal production of task-unrelated thoughts.

Read an abstract of the study

Read the full article (Good luck...)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Meditation 'eases heart disease'

According to the results of a first-ever study presented during the annual meeting of the American Heart Association in Orlando, FL, on Nov.16, 2009, patients with coronary heart disease who practiced Meditation had nearly 50 percent lower rates of heart attack, stroke, and death compared to nonmeditating patients.

The nine-year study followed 201 African American men and women, average age 59 years, with narrowing of arteries in their hearts who were randomly assigned to either practice the stress-reducing Transcendental Meditation technique or to participate in a control group which received health education classes in traditional risk factors, including dietary modification and exercise.

All participants continued standard medications and other usual medical care.

The study found:

  • A 47 percent reduction in the combination of death, heart attacks, and strokes in the participants
  • Significant reduction in blood pressure.
  • Significant reductions in psychological stress in the high-stress subgroup

Monday, November 16, 2009

Yoshukai Iaido

As we were enjoying lasagna and sampling various beverages after the Dothan Tournament, I asked Grand Master Kaicho Yamamoto if he had learned our Iai waza from Dr Chitose.

He did not. Sensei Yamamoto studied Niten Ichi Ryu, a school of kenjutsu founded by the legendary Miyamoto Musashi during the first half of the 17th century. For what I understood of our conversation, Master Yamamoto could not study very long because his instructor died.

Now, if you research Niten Ichi Ryu, you will hardly find any mention of Iai Jutsu, but of Kenjutsu only. I did not get the opportunity to discuss that with Kaicho. It could simply be that Niten Ichi Ryu being a Koryu, the information available is not very reliable, and that some Iai moves are part of it's curriculum, after all, before you get to hack your opponents right and left, you have to draw your sword out of the saya !

Friday, November 13, 2009

Buddhism and Science

The Teachings of the Buddha are not to be taken as the ultimate truth, the Truth comes from within, The Buddha himself insisted that no one should accept his teachings on faith without verifying for themselves their validity.

I believe this is the reason why Buddhism and Science are not exclusive of each other. Although there are differences in the path followed by the scientist and the Buddhist, systematic doubt is a common tool used by these 2 disciplines.

The Kalama Sutra relates how the Kalamas of the town of Kesaputta in Northern India , who did not know what to think of different doctrines taught by the various philosophers and teachers visiting their town, asked the Buddha questions about them and their teachings.

Here is the relevant portion of the text:

The Buddha once visited a small town called Kesaputta in the kingdom of Kosala. The inhabitants of this town were known by the common name Kalama. When they heard that the Buddha was in their town, the Kalamas paid him a visit, and told him:

"Sir, there are some recluses and brahmanas who visit Kesaputta. They explain and illumine only their own doctrines, and despise, condemn and spurn others' doctrines. Then come other recluses and brahmanas, and they, too, in their turn, explain and illumine only their own doctrines, and despise, condemn and spurn others' doctrines. But, for us, Sir, we have always doubt and perplexity as to who among these venerable recluses and brahmanas spoke the truth, and who spoke falsehood."

"Yes, Kalamas, it is proper that you have doubt, that you have perplexity, for a doubt has arisen in a matter which is doubtful. Now, look you Kalamas,

do not be led by reports, or tradition, or hearsay.

Be not led by the authority of religious texts,

not by mere logic or inference,

nor by considering appearances,

nor by the delight in speculative opinions,

nor by seeming possibilities,

nor by the idea: 'this is our teacher'.

BUddhism and Science

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Try Tai Chi for Knee Arthritis

Tai chi may help to reduce pain and improve physical function in people with knee arthritis, according to the results of a study published in the November 2009 issue of Arthritis Care and Research. Tai chi is a form of Chinese martial arts that uses slow rhythmic movements to encourage mental relaxation and improve balance. Now it seems that this traditional discipline is a reasonable treatment for older adults with arthritis of the knee.

Researchers from Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, Mass. conducted a trial of 40 older adults with an average age of 65 years who had symptomatic arthritis of the knee. Study participants were randomly assigned to either 60 minutes of tai chi or twice-weekly sessions of attention control focused on wellness education and stretching for a period of 12 weeks. The knee arthritis patients who were assigned to the tai chi group reported significantly greater improvement in their arthritis pain. They also reported significantly greater improvements in physical function, depression, and health-related quality of life.

Tai chi is a mind-body approach which seems to be effective in treating arthritis-related knee pain in older adults who are otherwise healthy. The study authors point out that tai chi meets all of the current exercise recommendations for arthritis of the knee, including range-of-motion and flexibility exercises, muscle conditioning, and aerobic training. It may even be that the mental discipline of tai chi can help to minimize the negative effects of chronic arthritis by improving psychological sense of well-being.

Article by June Chen, MD in

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


The original Chinese meaning of the Kanji NIN (as in Ninja) means patience, endurance. In Japan NIN evolved into shinobi, meaning to hide, to sneak in...

Three men laid the foundations for modern Japan and were to rule in succession :

  • Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582), warlord of the province of Owari,

  • Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598), one of his generals,

  • Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616), Nobunaga's junior ally.

Nobunaga, known for his cruelty, almost unified Japan but was betrayed by one of his lieutenants and slained.

Hideyoshi, known for his impetuosity, finally unified Japan and brought the end of the Civil War Era. When all Japan was unified and no enemy could be found, he tried and failed to conquer China. He died from old age in 1598 without ever becoming Shogun.

When Nobunaga was slained, Ieyasu, known for his patience, decided not dispute about Hideyoshi's claim for regency and kept the position of No.2 in Japan. When Hideyoshi died, Ieyasu vanquished his successor at the battle of Sekigahara in 1600. He got the title of Shogun in 1603, established his Shogunate in Edo, known as Tokyo today, and his dynasty ruled until 1867...

The following tale is told about these three extraordinary rulers :

There was a little bird who wouldn't sing. Nobunaga said, “little bird, if you don't sing, I'll kill you." Hideyoshi said, “little bird, if you don't sing, I'll make you sing." Tokugawa said, “little bird, if you don't sing, I'll wait for you to sing."

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Yoshukai Karate 30th Anniversary Tournament

The tournament went very well. Great competition, forms, weapons, sparring. It was attended by International visitors from Japan, Germany and Canada.

Our Grand Master Kaicho Yamamoto had brought with him a group young Japanese who did very well at the competition, and impressed everyone with their excellent manners and politeness.
Kaicho was presented with a Cowboy hat by the Texas Yoshukai group of Mr Byron Taylor. He seemed to enjoy it thoroughly...

A group of Canadians from British Columbia was lead by their Sensei Greg Turnbull who won the Grand Champion competition with a very impressive kata. His demonstration was an example for us all. Not only was he fast, he was also very stable and his stances very strong.

It is unusual to find someone who can display speed and stability. It is a very difficult thing to master. A lot of it is about trying to place the weight on the front of the foot (K1 point) and grabbing the ground with the toes. Easier said than done, years of attention are needed to develop this.

Cody Ray and I performed Kendo Kata in its entirety - Odachi and Kodachi part. You could have heard a pin drop in the civic center. Later that evening during the party that followed this event, I had comments about the relief people felt when we completed it : "Nobody was hurt..."