zazen redux

Brad Warner, who ran the zazen retreat, has posted his report. See if you can spot the cleverly disguised reference to me! I'm flattered to be mentioned, though I hope I was not my typically caustic and annoying self...then again that's part of why I attended in the first place.


Elvis and kumitachi with steel. I think I need to get some proper kumitachi blades as the one I am using is in truly poor shape, and while it might an interesting demo, I don't think having the blade break in two would be a good thing.

no cavities

Just back from Suzuki Dental aka The Best Dentist Ever. The result: No cavities, though my gums continue to be a bit receded. And the enamel on my teeth is ground down nicely, though better than it was before as I wisely heeded the advice to cut out carbonated bevvies and use a soft-bristled toothbrush and considerably less force when brushing.
Also, wearing the iPod at reasonably loud volume is way more pleasant than sans-music cleaning, but it still can't block out that heinous high-pitched dolphin whistle of the hydraultrasonic scraper-cleaner that gives me goosebumps every time it fires up. Every time that thing hits a wee sensitive spot between tooth and gum it feels like a redhot needle in the root of my tooth and it just so unpleasant. But it's worth it twice a year to never, ever get a cavity drilled and filled. And to run my tongue along my teeth and feel every little space between them, sans tooth gunk and grime.

thinking too hard

With the weather cooling off, training is getting more and more pleasant, less and less sweaty.
I love training in the fall. Good class tonight; five students and we drilled on the basics hard. Ended with a couple of kata, and I love when I teach and in the process of trying to demonstrate/explain something I know implicitly, I figure out explicitly the links. As I was talking about gyokko, I realized and explained that it is really similar to munazukushi. Both start with the assumption that you are getting cut where stand, so you start with the intention of attacking, but realizing that you are too late, you let the enemy attack you where you are so that you can evade. If you start either kata with evasion, the enemy will simply attack you where you are, which is slightly farther back from where you were because you are evading. And you get killed. So part of it is to wait and let the attack commit. It's only because you know where you are when you are getting cut that you can avoid.
The draw-and-counter in gyokko is also like ren or musogaeshi; keep the right hand moving, use the right pinky to get a proper grip asap, get the blade out and cutting and let the hips/body drive the cut, not the swing of the arm. The basics really are all the same. I am continually amazed at how well the 20 different kata all take the common basic moves and modify them for distance, timing, direction, but basically reinforce the theory of Mugairyu; the strategies of combat that makes Mugairyu different from other schools.
After regular class Elvis and I busted out the habiki (real sword, dulled edge) and ran through the kumitachi a few times. WAY more fun with steel-on-steel than wood-on-wood. Elvis had a couple of good "Oh THAT's how it works!" moments when the intensity of a technique (say a sword tip in the eye) became more readily apparent when using steel instead of wood. And we both had a couple of caught-my-sword-on-my-shirt moments of death that reminded us we need to crank more before the demo in October.
Another thing I struggle with when teaching is the paucity of the Japanese language concerning the word hayai. Well not really paucity, as it's just one word, but the problem is, depending on how the character is written, it can refer to fast as in speed, or fast as in time (as in early.)
So I keep having to verbosely explain that moving quickly is less important -- slower and less effective -- than moving accurately, which means moving with minimal (no wasted) movement and effectively using/closing distance, which is another way of saying timing. The fastest swing in the world won't hit a home run unless it's timed to actually hit the ball.
So I always try to show and explain that a 'slow' cut, generating power from the hips, timed to place the blade into the enemy's head just as he/you step into range, is far more effective than a wildly powerful and 'fast' arm swing that comes a fraction of a second after stepping into striking distance, for the moment you step into range your blade is in his head, whereas the moment he steps into range, his blade is above his head, prepped for a powerful, fast cut -- that comes too late. This is the difference between cutting nothing and/or stationary targets, and cutting someone who is also trying to cut you.
The really hard part about iai is, in fact, practicing on your own, without a partner in front of you, imagining the enemy in your mind's eye, and still acting with intensity as if someone was actually standing in front of you trying to give you open-skull surgery with a sword for a scalpel. In a sense, that's the zen/mental/spiritual aspect that puts the art in martial arts. It's easy to discount it, and in a sense it's easier when someone actually IS trying to clobber your noggin'. That's why I think it's so impressive when you see someone doing solo kata who is so intensely and realistically focused that you can practically see the imaginary enemies dropping like flies around him.