This past weekend was the annual Sei Do Kai Iaido & Jodo Seminar in Guelph, Ontario. Amongst those in attendance were practitioners from Calgary, Fredericton, Cleveland, New York, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Peterborough, and Chile.
Friday was a day mainly composed of travel and socializing. For those of us from Ottawa it was a 6-7 hour drive. Good conversation, a short nap, and some knitting helped pass the time more quickly for me. Once settled in my room, there was downtime while waiting for people to arrive. The night ended unusually early. I didn’t sleep well as I neglected to pack a blanket and woke up shivering a few times.
Saturday morning began with a review of etiquette. We did some Setei kata, but this year there was a strong focus on things like proper grip of the sword handle and everything was delivered in a highly relatable way with humour. Much of what Maehara-sensei and Hatakenaka-sensei demonstrated was done in such a visual way that the English translation was less crucial than in previous years. This is a great thing as the fans in the gym where the seminar is held are quite loud.
Hatakenaka-sensei (Atsumi Hatakenaka, 8th Dan Iaido) ran a special class later on for all of the ladies. She said it pleased her to be running a class for the ladies and that there were so many interested in Iaido today. We worked on one kata, which was Ippon-me Mae. Hatakenaka-sensei stressed that if Mae isn’t good, there is no point to learning further kata. There was a focus on saya biki as we extract the sword from the saya. I debated on whether or not I should share some of the lady specific content (what happens in ladies class stays in ladies class?), but I think in sharing it, male sensei can better understand the unique challenges a female swords-person faces.
- Obi and Hakama: When I began Iai, it was explained to me that the obi should be tight. It shouldn’t cause breathing difficulty, but close. This is incorrect for women. Women need the obi to be loose enough that we can stick one hand inside. The reason for this is that we are structured differently. Women often have hips and thin waists, where the waist is often narrower than the hip. With an overly tight obi and hakama, women experience a couple of issues. One of them is the saya being pressed into the hip so hard it creates a constant feeling of being bruised. The other is a tendency for the hakama to ride up, so we need to be mindful to move it back to the correct position.
- Power and Noise: Hatakenaka-sensei stressed that for women, it is not important to make noise with our sword. Noise will come and go and it’s not necessarily a sign of a good cut. Noise can be a sign of power, yes, but our strength is not power, but beauty. She said we cannot compete against a man using muscle strength, as we will lose that fight. She said the sword can be dropped and it will cut, so power is not something we should focus on. In talking of beauty she stressed that our beauty isn’t about makeup or jewelry (she was happy none of us were wearing jewelry). I think she was trying to express that our softness is part of our strength. A cut doesn’t have to produce noise to be a proper cut. This makes sense to me as someone who owns a sword with a much smaller groove and blade than most. I practice with a 2.0 shaku blade. The blade is thinner and so is the groove. It is hard to make it make noise. She mentioned that no one should be focused on making the noise. The blade can make a noise, but the cut may not be the right cut for the kata.
- Breasts: A concern was raised on kata such as Tsuka-Ate and Shiho-Giri about the potential to stab one’s own breast with the kissaki. We discussed where the blade should be. There was confusion on whether it should under the breast, over the breast, or at another height. It seemed to be best around nipple height. As for not stabbing the breast, when bringing the blade up to height, ensure the kissaki is beyond a point where it is possible to dig into the breast in any way.
- Bouncing Blade: My question to Hatakenaka-sensei was how to stop my blade from bouncing. She had trouble understanding what I was asking so I pulled out my sword and showed her. She walked over and twisted my left hand into a different position on my tsuka. Then she explained that not only was my grip incorrect, but I was way too tense. I need to find a way to fully engage my muscles without becoming tense.
There were other questions. These were the main ones, mostly about things that differ between the sexes. Sometimes women are more comfortable asking a woman questions about general Iaido techniques though they aren’t female-specific.
We took a picture of all of the ladies with the darling Toronto dojo baby (Atsuki). Hatakenaka-sensei said we needed to take the picture quickly before the baby noticed she was being held by a stranger.
Saturday evening was the auction. My first chapter of The Page & The Magician went for $15 and I had my first “book signing”. I’m hoping to have the whole book for next year’s auction, but with several drafts and beta reading to go, that may not be doable.
On Sunday morning we focused on Setei. My group was with Cruise-sensei (Stephen Cruise, 7th Dan Iaido). We got a lot of technical details from Cruise-sensei. He didn’t correct a lot of my kata, only my tip position on Mae after the horizontal cut. There was a focus on Ki Ken Tai no Ichi and Metsuke. Cruise-sensei does Muso Shinden Ryu Iai, so he does a couple of things differently than my teacher. I was worried for a dojo mate that was grading this weekend, but it is hard to pick up corrections that quickly and integrate them into one’s Iai, so while it was a little confusing for him he passed his Ikkyu grading anyway.
In the afternoon we did some Koryu kata, specifically Omori-ryu. I left early with a friend as she injured herself and my leg muscles couldn’t continue. I had a shower, a nap, a snack, and played Yahtzee.
The evening involved a pub trip, and a visit to Marble Slab Creamery where I had dairy free chocolate ice cream. My legs were quite sore and didn’t enjoy the stairs that led down to the pub’s bathroom. I enjoyed the ice cream. It’s a rare treat for me, especially at an actual ice cream place.
On Monday morning I packed my things into the car and checked out before going over to the open floor practice. A little while into the morning, Hatakenaka-sensei worked with my group on Setei. The floor was so sticky from the humidity that it made it difficult to slide across the floor for Mae. I could feel the difference in my cuts from her grip correction on Saturday. She was perturbed by the group as it takes us longer at this level to incorporate corrections into our technique. She said if one doesn’t apply corrections, there is little point to practicing. If you aren’t open to changes, why do the art at all. As a result, we repeated kata many times.
I should have asked how to toughen the tops of my feet. Sitting in seiza is very painful for me. Some of it is normal as it takes time for the bones to get used to being in that position. Some of it is that I need to work on my leg strength. None of that will change the fact that my veins have almost no coverage in the way of muscle, fat, or skin. Maybe there’s Botox for feet? I could wear some sort of padding over them, but I feel like it would be better to toughen them somehow. They need to grow calluses. The pain drove me to leave the floor earlier than I wanted.
The drive back had me napping for a couple of hours. Today I napped for a few more hours. Prior to the seminar was Comiccon and training at work, so I had a lot of early days and accumulated much sleep debt. Hopefully it is now repaid as I have training to do.
– Roy Iaidoka