first official practice of 2007

Assembled the whole dojo at the Tokyo Budokan (not the Nippon Budokan in Kudanshita, but the Tokyo Budokan in Ayase) and had the Shinnenkeikokai -- First Official Practice of 2007.
After some words from Gosoke, we ran through the basics and then split up by rank and trained for a couple hours. I have the 4th/5th dans so we worked on all the niggling little details; feet, knees, hips, hands, elbows, shoulders...using the upper and lower body together as one unit, focusing on the enemy and reacting to him...lots to work on this year!

more tonchan photos

These are from mama's camera:


Originally uploaded by renfield.

The Shadow passed her level one financial qualifications exam, so as promised I took her to lunch at Lawry's for some proper meat, and of course she had a lunch beer.

back in the dojo

First practice of the year, and my first practice in what must be over a month. My left ankle still feels a bit wonky since I did something to it a couple of days ago (not sure what) but other than that it was nice to get back swinging.
Took plenty of time today to warm up and work on basics slowly. Focused on, as always, keeping some semblance of balance and coordination between the upper and lower halves of the body. Always tough, because it's so easy to step quickly with the feet, but the arms can't move the sword as quickly, and it ends up being a whip-like motion with the feet and legs planting and then the upper body swinging forward and the arms snapping. Strong, but no good against someone who's also trying to kill you. As has been stressed from day one: if you step you are in range to hit and therefore in range to be hit. If you step into range, your sword best be buried in the other guy's head. If it's not, and it's still somewhere above your head, then his sword will surely be buried in your head.
So we worked on basics 1 and 2, then did the first kata shin for the rest of the time. Gotta love the word kata. It means shape or form, referring to the pattern of movements, but not the same as odori, a set pattern of movements i.e. a dance. Kata is concerned with transmitting some essence of the art through the repetition of certain physical strategies. The desired end result is some level of proficiency in using the techniques to achieve given goals: kill him before he kills you, evade and counter before he has time to mount a second attack, etc. Interestingly, the end result can be achieved, superficially (and wrongly) by ignoring the exactness of the kata itself.
For example it's easy to cut a straw target: any adult can swing a sword like a bat and chop straw in two. But to do so without using unnecessary arm strength, driving from the hips effortlessly requires serious practice.
Before the end can be achieved, the kata must be obeyed. Since it is impossible for a beginner to understand a kata, he must first take it on faith that the kata is correct, even though he is unable to do it correctly. So the beginner makes every effort to simply copy what he sees, to make his kata look correct. First get the moves in their proper order; left foot, right hand, etc. Then attempt to make them look right; lean this far, sword angled just so, hand and foot timed like this. Ironically, it is only by first striving to make the kata look good that one can begin to understand the essence of the kata; correct action forces the desired result -- it is not possible to do the wrong thing when the kata is done correctly, and it is not possible to make the kata look correct without doing it correctly.
Superficially at first, it is easy to mimic the various poses of the kata, to copy frame by frame. The key is the movement between frames, the timing and balance, the poise and speed moving from one frame to the next. Ultimately the body learns how to move in ways originally thought not possible or at the least impractical. Then begins an understanding of the strategy, the actual art. At this point one can start ignoring the kata in and of itself and focus on the underlying goal and the principals to achievement. Interestingly, this is why many senior practitioners are not too concerned with getting a kata "wrong"; they are perfectly capable of going left instead of right, slow instead of fast, because they understand the essence, the strategy of the art. Gosoke sometimes demonstrates this by starting one kata and then finishing as another. For him, as he says, all the kata are merely one kata, there is only one Mugairyu. As the first line of the poem from which Mugairyu got its name says: "ippo jitsu mugai" -- "There is nothing but the one truth."


Took mama and Masa to yakiniku and feasted like royalty. Ah, happy meat!

p's night off

P went to her annual junior high school reunion so I was in charge of Tonchan. Fed her a couple of bottles, burped her, put her in the sling and she fell asleep immediately. Had dinner, gave her a bath and another bottle, and by then P came home. All in all a tiring but successful evening.
P's friends couldn't believe that a) she had a baby (we surpised everyone by sending them new year's cards with pictures of Tonchan) and b) she left a one-month old baby with the husband. I guess they're not used to husbands who are even remotely useful when it comes to taking care of kids.

rains and trains

Took Mama up to Millie's place to have lunch with her and her parents. We took the subway. Badly. Didn't even realize that Kodenmacho station is not on the Ginza Line, so we ended up taking Nanboku to Ginza to Asakusa to Hibiya. Should have just gotten on the Hibiya Line at Hiroo, so we make a 30 minute ride into a an hour-long slough through the underworld of Tokyo.
After playing with Millie and stuffing ourselves we went to Mitsukoshi to check out the cool traditional crafts sale. Mama got some cool hand-blown glass bead (tombodama) necklaces and I got a hand-carved wooden mu to carry around in my pocket.
And then it was to the basement to load up on grilled fish and chicken balls and black vinegar pork to take home and eat for dinner, but first a fresh squeezed juice to get the blood sugar level back to normal.