Friday, June 21, 2013

Chambering the Sword

In a lot of our Katachi waza, Uchidachi pushes Shidachi backwards then cuts.

To be able to push your opponent, your kissaki needs to be in the center. When you push him you shuffle your front foot to enter into his space - your kissaki aimed at his face or chest. You keep pressing by taking a full step ahead with your back foot while raising your sword. When your opponent steps back, you cut him.

It is important to cut him WHILE he is stepping back - while his backing foot is still in the air. If your cut comes when his foot has already landed, it is too late. He could - and should - cut you.

If you chamber your sword behind your head, you give your opponent the opportunity to cut while it is behind you. You created an opportunity for you when you forced him backward, and you just lost it by chambering behind your head. Not very bright, you deserve to die !

Of course if both of you chamber behind your head, this does not apply, maybe you both deserve to die !

I suppose this is why in Itto Ryu we are told not to chamber our sword past our head, and why in Kendo the Men cut keeps the sword moving forward.
Practice this : Start at one end of the dojo and push your partner - ask him to cut you if he can - if you chamber behind your head, he should seize the opportunity. If you only chamber above your head, he should have no opening. 

BTW, this also works in Karate. It is very difficult to launch a successful move while retreating. Unless you are baiting the opponent - but this is a different story !

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Kenjutsu, Iajututsu, Kendo & Iaido

When I taught a Kenjutsu class at our Yoshukai Summer camp 4 students out of 15 showed up without any kind of sword...

Turns out a most students had no clue what Kenjutsu is about.

Let us try to clarify what Kendo, Kenjutsu, Iaido and Iaijutsu are.

Iaijutsu : Basically, Iaijutsu is about drawing your sword and cutting your opponent in one move. This is the intent. Ideally, your opponent is out on your draw (nukitsuke). As it is unlikely that he is fully dead, but more than likely wounded, you put an end to his misery with an additional move. It is also possible that you missed him on your first draw, or that this first draw was a purely defensive move needed to evade his attack. In that case, you proceed to other moves in order to get rid of your opponent. 

In a way Iaijutsu is more about duelling and street fighting.

The student of Iaijutsu generally performs moves by himself. It is somehow similar to Karate kata. It is important to supplement this training by actual practice with a partner, but at the beginning it is not necessary. 

Generally Iaijutsu is practiced with a Iaito : a blunt sword that allows safe practice by numerous students in a dojo.

Kenjutsu : In Kenjutsu you draw your sword and use it. This is more about battlefield combat.

The student of Kenjutsu immediately starts training with a partner.

Kenjutsu is usually practiced with a wooden boken. 

Iaido and Kendo are similar to Iaijutsu and Kenjutsu in their technical aspects. The techniques of Iaido are the techniques of Iaijutsu. The spirit of their practice is different. Whoever practices Jutsu is seeking technical mastery of the Art. Whoever studies Do is seeking self improvement through practice. However, this is not clear cut. The practice of Iaijutsu or Kenjutsu can also be a spiritual journey, and some senseless idiots practice Kendo.

Kenjutsu / Kendo Iaijutsu / Iaido
Practice With partner Solo
Type of fighting Battle field Street fighting
Training weapon Wooden Boken / Bamboo Shinai Blunt Iaito

Sometimes the term Batto-do or Batto-Jutsu is used to regroup the 2 disciplines under the same term.

There would be much more to say on this subject, but the point is simplicity. I apologize for the approximations. 

The next time you come to a Kenjutsu class, please bring a boken

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Chinese Cemetery of Nolettes

On June 1st, 2013, I visited the Chinese Cemetery of Nolettes on the Somme River. 849 Chinese men who died during World War I or right after it are buried in this beautiful place. 

Their simple gravestones are engraved with Chinese as well as English characters.

Most of these men who died so far from home where probably Buddhist and it is unlikely that any Buddhist words were ever spoken on their behalf
I lit some incense I had brought with me, and I sat in Zazen under the main cypress tree during the time it took for one stick to burn. 
After that I walked each row of gravestones reciting the heart sutra for them. 
Then I bowed and left. 

Here is the story of men buried there almost totally forgotten for over 80 years...

In 1916, France and Britain started to recruit Chinese labourers to fill the manpower shortage caused by World War I. Approximately 140,000 Chinese workers - about 100,000 with the Brits and 40,000 with the French - served on the Western Front during and right after the War.

At the end of the war about 5,000 to 10,000 of them stayed in France and formed the original nucleus of the Chinese community in Paris.

Mainly aged between 20 and 35, these men did not take part to actual combat. They were supporting the frontline troops, unloading ships, building dugouts, repairing roads and railways, digging trenches and filling sandbags. Some worked in armaments factories, others in shipyards. However, when the war ended some were used for mine clearance, or to recover the bodies of soldiers and fill in miles of trenches.

According to the records around 2,000 of them died during the war, most from the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu pandemic, and some as a direct result of enemy action or of wounds received in the course of their duties.

Those who died, classified as war casualties, were buried in several French and Belgian graveyards in the North of France. The largest number of graves is located at the Chinese Cemetery of Noyelles sur Mer close to the Somme river's estuary, where 849 men are buried.

The contribution of these men went forgotten for decades until military ceremonies resumed in 2002.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Sculpture and Karate

Sculpture and Karate teaching both are about creation. When you make a statue, you actually create its form out of matter; when you teach karate, you create a form in a student's mind.

Let us say you have 2 different materials : Clay, and Steel bits and pieces, and you want to create the statue of a standing man.

The Clay Statue : you first take a big chunk of clay and shape it to the general shape of a guy - about as tall and wide as you envision it. Then, little by little, you adjust. You start shaping its torso, head and limbs. Once your piece looks like a crude humanoid silhouette, you get into more details : arms, shoulders, wrists, ankles... Later you get to even minuter details : eyes, nose, fingers, ears and toes, etc... From the beginning, you actually shape the statue by mostly removing unwanted material. This is a global and synthetic way to proceed.

The Steel statue : If you work with steel parts, you are going to cut, bend and weld them. So chances are that you will first create perfect feet and perfect calves, then weld the calves onto the feet. After that you might create perfect legs, and weld them on top of the calves, etc, etc, until you weld the perfect hat on top of the perfect head. This is a very detail oriented and analytical way to work.

Both ways have their plus and minus.

With the clay, you have from the beginning a certain idea of where you are going and you maintain it. There is a certain continuity of goal in your work, but it is going to take a long time before the whole thing looks good : for quite a while your statue might be seen as a gorilla as much as a man.

With steel, there will not be any clear indication of what you are actually building until enough things are put together, but from the very beginning, each individual little parts you build will look good - and you may get quicker a satisfying sense of achievement. The difficulty may come if the individual parts you have built do not perfectly fit one with the other.

Please note one important part : You need to adapt the way you work to the material. You could in theory shape perfect bits and pieces out of clay and glue them together, but you hardly could weld a great amount of steel pieces together and remove parts of them to shape a human form.

Back to Karate.

Different students learn differently. Some love to learn details before they learn the big picture - that is the way to proceed with steel. Some students do better learning the big picture before getting into details - that's the synthetic way better suited to clay.

Instructors too have their preferences.

An analytical type of instructor will spend a great amount of time teaching each individual move in great details, so that the student has to learn the first move of a fighting combination and be able to execute it perfectly before he is allowed to learn the second move.

A synthetic type of instructor will first teach a whole kata without worrying too much about the counts. Only once the student can demonstrate something that sorts of looks like the kata does the instructor begin to clean up each move.

Plus and minus of each way.

The synthetic method may be easier to memorize for Western students. It is more like a dance or a gymnastic routine - it is possible to tune it up so that the final execution of the kata "looks" better faster, which may give the student satisfaction and make him want to progress further.

The analytical method is probably harder for more students - it requires more patience. In the case of learning a whole kata, it will take a much longer time than the global way, and the result may not always look better than the kata learned the synthetic way.

On a strictly actual fighting and self defense standpoint, it is likely that the analytical method will give better results (providing the instructor knows what he is doing). The accurate performance of a few individual move is more important than the ability to demonstrate a beautiful looking kata including a number of moves which the student does not understand.

Why bother with Kata ?

Kata are a tool to help student memorize self defense moves by putting them together within a routine. The past masters took the pain to create and transmit them. They used both synthetic and analytical ways.

We should teach as they did. We should make sure we transmit kata as they were taught to us - synthesis - and make sure each individual move makes sense in an actual fighting context - analysis.

Also lets keep in mind the sculpture analogy : some students nature are clay, some are steel.

Some pure steel type of people are absolutely not able to learn kata - which does not mean they cannot do good karate and be excellent fighters. It would be a mistake to try bother them too much with kata.

Some older or younger people cannot do proper basic moves but can perform beautiful and elegant kata. Their actual self defense ability might be close to zero. However, if they stick around long enough, they will get better and one day be able to actually realize what they are doing, from that day on, you should be able to teach them actual applications of the kata.

Instructors should be able to tune up their teaching to each type of student. No matter what your personal teaching preference is, in order to really transmit karate, you should be able to teach both ways.

And THIS...
is valid for all teachings.