Merry Monday: Jo-ha-kyū

Image created using Bit Strips.

Image created using Bit Strips.

I got frustrated with my Sensei and Sempais on Sunday. Lately, they bring up Jo-ha-kyū often, which is a timing used in our martial art of Iaido, but actually comes from the theatre.

This will be explained in writing terms shortly.

We like to say the kata needs feeling. It needs Jo-ha-kyū. It also needs metsuke, but we aren’t discussing that today.

Well, I snapped at them and said that they keep saying that and it’s just words without meaning. I said it was entirely subjective and asked why there couldn’t be a guideline on the timing like Jo is 6 beats, Ha is 1-2 beats, and then Kyū is 4 beats? Well, they said that’s just not possible because each kata needs different timing.

Valid point.

So we discussed it further.

Jo is the “Rising Action”. Often, this is when we are unsheathing our swords. In Ippon-me Mae, we are drawing slowly because at any point we could decide we don’t need to fight after all and we can place the sword back in its scabbard.

Ha is the “Turning Point” and is often the shortest part. This is the saya banare point where our sword is no longer in its sheath. We’re committed to following through.

Kyū is the “Climax” and usually, we’re cutting something.

But katas can be made of more than one scene and contain several Jo-ha-kyū moments.

Take Mae, for example. We rise as we draw (Jo). The sword leaves the saya and the tip is flicked into position to start the cut (Ha). We perform the horizontal cut (Kyu). Next, we bring the sword upward (Jo), briefly pausing as it reaches cutting position (Ha), and then we cut vertically down the centre (Kyū).

We write using Jo-ha-kyū. Or we should. There’s a thing our protagonist is trying to get (Rising Action or Jo), but s/he has to deal with something else first (Obstacle/Opportunity/Turning Point or Ha), then they get what they want (Climax or Kyū).

After the final Climax occurs we must move into resolution. In Iaido, we call this Zanshin. We slowly come down from the climax and the fight or story is over.

These things relate to music as well. Songs often start soft and gradually build. They rise and might hit a turning point by changing timing for a small piece or keys. Then, they climax and resolve. This might happen a few times in a song. Each climax may supersede the previous one.

Geocaching also has these elements. The Rising Action (Jo) of choosing the cache, the commitment by setting the GPS (Ha), the climax of locating the cache and doing whatever is required to log it (Kyū).

Everything in life has a rhythm.

In Iaido, we want to be able to take control of the timing. If we control the timing, we win the fight. With writing, publishers long held control of the timing. Now, the author can choose to be in control.

I now have concrete examples of each of the elements of Jo-ha-kyū, I just need to get my body to do it. You can’t see it, but I’m rolling my eyes. It can take months or even years to get the body to apply what is known in the mind.

This happens in writing, as well. We know if we write about our character crying, the reader won’t cry. Knowing this doesn’t tell us how to write a scene where the reader will cry, though. There are other critical elements like ensuring the reader cares about the character in the first place. We know this too. We can’t know if the reader will care. There’s a higher likelihood if they can relate to the character, but we can’t all relate to each other all the time. If the protagonist is a serial killer, has no remorse, and has no reason beyond enjoying killing for murdering people, then there won’t be too many who empathize with them. If said serial killer is a forensics guy who kills serial killers because he’s using his affliction for good we are put in this grey area because we know there are major cracks in the justice department that let dangerous criminals off too often. Then we think about how this guy is doing something bad to save the lives of others. He’s doing something for the greater good. We can’t help but like Dexter Morgan.

Anyway, I think I’ve gotten off-topic. I hope you find your own rhythm in whatever you do.

Ciao,
R~

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Black Belt – So what?

On Friday I traveled down to a friend’s place in Oshawa, Ontario. We ate. I excitedly ran about giving her and her daughter gifts. Or tried to. New socks plus excitement led to me falling down some stairs. It wasn’t something I needed. At least her daughter loved the gift. After that we climbed into the hot tub for some girl time and relaxation as Saturday was a big day for us.

Early Saturday morning we left for Etobicoke. We arrived at the Olympium and lugged all our gear inside. The next step was finding out where we were going, which was much easier to find than the last time we traveled to a seminar together.

The seminar was fantastic! I received some key tips that I think will help fix my grip once and for all. Hopefully I remember them. I wrote the most important ones down already, but I’m remembering some right now that I should scribble down.

After the seminar, we hurriedly ate lunch and returned to the room for grading. During the seminar, I became quite sore, especially in the part of the buttock that met the step abruptly the day before. Today, it hurts even more.

So grading. We lined up when told and stood at attention with swords sheathed as we waited to step onto the grading floor. I did reiho (etiquette) without leaving anything out. In practice earlier this month, I forgot to bow to Shinzen or the judges. That would’ve been terrible at grading and possibly fail worthy. I remembered Galligan Sensei’s advice to take three breaths between each kata to perform them at a proper speed. I tried to incorporate some of the suggestions into my grading embu. I was tired and sore. Battle-weary one might say.

I passed. My rank is now Shodan (1st Dan), which means I’m a black belt. So why the title of this blog post? Getting a black belt is cool, for sure, but all it means is that I have gotten the fundamentals down. It’s like a foundation. There’s a whole building left, plumbing, electrical, framing, a roof, siding, shingles, landscaping, etcetera left to install. I’m just getting started.

Nearly all my friends passed too. After dinner the ladies and I went back to the hot tub and watched a movie, which I briefly nodded off during. What movie? Pacific Rim. There were giant aliens and giant robots, and eventually swords. It was epic.

The drive home today felt long in my semi-broken state, but it’s the good kind of broken.

Ittekimasu,
Roy Iaidoka

Grading is on my mind

Next Saturday I will be challenging the Shodan grading. This is also referred to as First Dan. It is the first black belt level in our martial art, Iaido. We don’t have coloured belts and we don’t actually wear our ranks around our waists. Our obis, or belts, are to help keep our hakama, or pleated pants, up and our sword where it should be when it is sheathed. Shodan is thought of more as the level where learning really begins. Previous to it one is learning, but it has mostly been fundamental things like where to stand and how to hold a sword. I don’t know what learning comes next, but I’m hoping I’m ready for it.

What I’m thinking about the most is Mae. Ippon-me Mae is the foundation of our art. It contains so much more than it appears to within it. Aside from the horizontal and vertical cuts, there are options to stab in case it isn’t just a one-on-one situation after all. The cuts are used in many situations and crop up throughout kata in all of the sets. If one cannot learn those basic moves, one cannot go further.

As I was pondering Mae further, I realized that without a sword in my hand, I’m doing moves that are similar to other arts like karate.

As I perform nukitsuke without a sword in my hand, my right hand is performing a block and my left is chambering to provide power to the block. When I would normally bring my sword tip up past my ear on my way to furi kaburi, I could grab someone’s wrist. For kirioroshi I could be grabbing the head of the opponent and bringing it to meet my knee. When I perform the stabbing motion in between the center line cut (kirioroshi/kiriotoshi), I could be grabbing a wrist in preparation to throw someone over my hip. O chiburi could be a circular block as is performed in Taikyoku Shodan.

Green Sensei often speaks of martial arts in distances. There are different distances for kendo from iaido. Karate and Judo or Jiu-jitsu are used when you’re too close for swords.

All of this is in my head today. At grading, I need to be able to get my body to show that I have a clue and I know where my sword tip should be. I also have to perform etiquette properly.

Tonight, I can practise etiquette, but not kata. I had my final physiotherapy appointment today and my going away gift was dry needling. She told me not to lift stuff today. Etiquette can always use improvement anyway, so that is my plan for tonight. My legs are fine too, so I can do some footwork. There isn’t much time left until grading day now. The last few times I practised, I was too fast. Hopefully I can slow down to a reasonable speed and just do Iai.

Ittekimasu,
Roy Iaidoka

Mixed Bag

I’m sorry for not posting on Sunday. I was hungover. You see, Saturday was the annual dojo BBQ. I enjoyed vodka and cutting mats with a sharp sword, also known as Tameshigiri. I did my favorite kata, So Giri. It’s number eleven in the Zen Ken Ren set. It’s kind of flashy and you can’t do it for grading unless you’re asked to. There’s 5 cuts in it. I did much better than last year. I was annoyed when the sword got stuck in the “body”, but my sensei said the depth was decent, so that’s cool.

I’m trying to tie up all the loose ends in my book. It’s going out with a bang. I’ve stumbled onto some bits where I can’t remember what I was thinking. Some kind of lizard creature. Yes, that’s about the extent of what I left myself. Hopefully I find a note explaining to myself what that was about.

My next homework for the superheroes course is due in September, but I should get it done sooner.

It looks like my food sensitivities may be a symptom of a larger issue, so I get to see a specialist next month. It’s not shocking to me. I’m looking forward to getting answers, even if those may not be pleasant answers. I’m also not looking forward to it either. What I expect is the specialist will order more tests and it may take quite a while to actually figure it out. It’s causing me quite a lot of pain to walk. Because I’ve been walking in a funny way to try and reduce pain, I’m having to massage my calve muscles. Fun stuff. Counting down the days to seeing the specialist (27). In the meantime, I have other doctors appointments like an MRI to check my neck/head out. I also have an annual physical booked and it’s finally almost time for that CT scan that was ordered a long time ago to check out my salivary glands, which have been problematic for about 20 years. I think I’ll be sick of doctors appointments soon.

Whatever happens, I’m finishing my books and doing my martial art. I’ve never been one for letting things get in my way. Something may slow me down for a bit, but I adapt and move on.

Ciao,
R~

Birthday Weekend

On the Saturday I went to an Iaido seminar in Saint Catharine’s Ontario. It began with a buddhist ceremony to honour a man that helped grow the martial art in Canada. We did some neat warm-ups including doing Ippon-Me Mae across the gym floor. We ran through Zen Ken Ren Iai a couple of times. We broke into level specific training groups. My level only did Mae. We did Omori-Ryu in the afternoon. I think Omori-Ryu is the next iaido set I will focus my home training on. I need to remember how to do them all and their names and numbers. I learned a key tip that helps me better understand how to apply what Hatakenaka Sensei told me about my grip. She said I was too tense, which I knew, but not how to fix it. Jorgenson Sensei demonstrated the difference in how far back one can move their arms if they’re tense in the shoulders vs if they aren’t tense. It might take time to rid myself fully of the tension, but at least I know what having relaxed shoulders should feel like now.

Sunday was my birthday. My friend took me to a pho place to grab dinner. I got a tasty curry dish. We went for a walk in the woods at the Trent Nature Sanctuary, which was nice despite the bugs and my lack of hiking footwear. Hiking in sandals gave me with a lovely blister. That night, I made good friends with Tito’s corn vodka from Texas as I played Magic the Gathering with a friend and his son. I’m pretty awful at the game, but he gave me some good ideas on how to get better.

Monday was spent hungover and driving from Peterborough to Ottawa. I got back home at 6:10 p.m. and took a breather before heading to a meeting with my writers group. It was a pretty relaxed meeting. We don’t normally meet in the summer, but we’re planning our future and all that.

I recently picked up an adult colouring book. It’s addictive. I should have a finished piece soon. Perhaps I should have waited until after I finished my editing to get one. I got the Japanese one from DeSerres. I find it forces me to disconnect from technology, which is something I find difficult to do on my own.

I’m now editing chapter 17. I’m aiming to finish editing by the end of July. I need to work harder on this to make that happen.

I might hit up G-Anime this weekend with a friend. This weekend is also the annual Japanese festival where people can watch all sorts of neat Japanese things from martial arts to musical acts and eat hot dogs with seaweed on them. If you’re in Ottawa, you should check it out. I’ll be there swinging my sword around noon.

Well, off to edit.

Ciao,
R~

Sei Do Kai Seminar Weekend 2015

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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

Am I getting worse?

Tuesday was one of those classes where I felt like I did very few things correctly. We’re ramping up for the Sei Do Kai Spring Seminar in Guelph, so we’re practicing setei kata or Zen Ken Ren Iai. I made tons of mistakes. Sensei Green said I wasn’t getting worse, I am getting better because the mistakes were there before and I couldn’t see them. Now I can see how awful I am and since I know how bad I am, I have a starting point for improvement.

It makes sense. I took a course on Learning How to Learn and part of a lesson was about how a period where one feels totally incompetent is often followed by a large amount of improvement. It’s a normal part of the learning process.

So what am I doing badly? A whole lot.

I have this problem where I can do one thing or another thing, but combine the two and it’s game over. This often happens with cutting and metsuke. With metsuke, I can’t see my imaginary opponent, so I don’t look down at the appropriate time as though I am seeing her falling to the ground. It’s like I remember part way through that I need to be doing metsuke. Maybe I should practice metsuke without the sword?

I have trouble gripping the sword properly and I think that is part of my cutting problem because as I bring the blade down, my left thumb is often in the perfect position for my right tendons to run into it and I become somewhat limp-wristed. That really isn’t useful for cutting.

But I also bounce. Instead of stopping where I am supposed to I bounce. Sensei said this could be partly do to wrist strength. The likely culprit is too much right hand and improper twisting of the hands to make the blade stop.

I probably spend too much time focusing on whether or not my sword makes noise. The reality is that my sword has a smaller surface area on which to create noise. I think I’m focusing too much on this aspect and letting other things fall by the wayside as a result.

Lately I’m even having trouble getting up from the ground without my hakama tripping me. This is probably due to losing some weight and it hanging differently. I should probably make some alterations before the seminar. I need to alter the sleeves anyway as my tsuka-gashira keeps getting hooked on them and its driving me crazy. It looks too puffy anyway.

My biggest issue seems to plague me outside of Iaido as well. I’m bad for not reading things thoroughly because I’m often in a rush to get to the next moment. This leads to parking tickets and buying things with allergens in them among other things. In Iaido that issue has me turning my foot in anticipation of the next move and doing crappy cuts from incorrect starting points.

A big problem is continuous movement versus choppiness and speed. I keep putting power into my cuts at the wrong point of the cut.

I need to finish one cut before I move onto the other cut, but keep moving slowly in between so it doesn’t look like I’ve forgotten the next step.

I guess I can add power later. Right now my power seems to come from my speed. It’s wild and unruly. I should be in better control of every aspect of my body, mind, and sword.

It looks like I need to slow down in several areas of life.

– Roy Iaidoka