Student Iai

Whilst nowhere near as popular or widespread as kendo, dedicated iaido clubs can be found at many Japanese universities. University students often have a strong showing in shiai, and student taikai are highly competitive with some great iai on show. University club members often have extremely strong form, visually impressive iai, and ability far beyond the average for their grade.* However, student iaido or ‘gakusei iai’ is also marked by several quirks that many sensei say must be overcome if a student wants to progress into the higher grades. Taking my former club as an example, I’ll give a brief description of why the student approach to iai does so well in shiai, and what its weaknesses are.

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The How of Co-creation

After three years in Japan, I went back to the States and back to school, doing a BA in Psychology, particularly focusing on social and cultural psychology. I was quite fascinated at the idea of Japanese and other East Asian cultures thinking and even perceiving the world differently. Returning to Japan in 2005, I had a vague idea of wanting to get insight into that way of thinking, take what I could from it, and integrate it with my own Western way of thinking. The best of both worlds. But I had no idea how to really do that, other than living in Japan and picking it up via osmosis.

Not long after I joined Shinkage Ryu, one highly respected senior showed me a book, and suggested I read it. The book was by Professor Shimizu Hiroshi, and the title was (translating from the Japanese): The Theory of Ba (Place) As Life-Knowledge: the how of co-creation as seen through Yagyu Shinkage Ryu. Continue reading The How of Co-creation

The Benefits and Disadvantages of Tameshigiri Practice

Tameshigiri has been quite the hot discussion on forums lately. It will always pop back up after a few weeks of dormancy and then someone will bring it back up again. In these discussions you always have the advocates of tameshigiri, the side that frowns upon it, and couple of guys who are just curious and would like to give it a try.

It is my opinion that tameshigiri practiced within the context of their own art can always help supplement their original training depending on what art you practice. So let’s break down the advantages first.

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How to pass hachidan

Here is the advice that was given to my favourite teacher just prior to him passing his hachidan on this 4th attempt at the age of 49 a few years ago. The advice was given to him by the shihan of my dojo, a kendo hanshi who was in the last class of 5 people to graduate Busen (the legendary Budo Senmon Gakko in Kyoto). He was told to:

気勢・剣勢・体勢をもって正しく打ち切る。気攻めで、相手の気と機をつかむ。それを自然と身体が覚える。

  • With a vigorous spirit and sword, and a good posture, be decisive (in your actions and cutting).
  • Apply pressure to your opponent by reading their intent and seizing his openings with a strong and confident spirit.
  • Do this until your body can react and move naturally.

Luckily he goes on to expand it point by point:

気勢:立合は、必死も大きな声を出し、懸かる気持ちをみせる。
剣勢:左手、右手の使用で剣先がおちる打ち。
体勢:右足の攻めと、左足の引き付け、打突後のさばき。
正しく打ち切る:色を掛けないで、打ち間から、捨て切る打ち。
気攻め:留めて留めて丹田から前に押し出し攻め。
気と機をつかむ:その攻めにより、相手の気剣体の動きと、心の動きを観、初太刀の攻防。

  • vigorous spirit: with a big kiai do your utmost to project your feeling of attack on your opponent;
  • vigorous sword: using both hands correctly cut decisively and strongly with the kensaki.;
  • posture: use your right foot to pressure the opponent, don’t forget to pull up your left foot always, and be careful of your movement after you strike;
  • cut decisively: without showing your intention to strike and from uchima, throw your whole body (sutemi) into the cut;
  • attacking with your spirit: hold the attack in your tanden until breaking point, whilst pressuring forwards;
  • Apply pressure to your opponent by reading their intent and seizing his openings: using your seme, study your opponents movements, both his kikentai and his heart. Pay particular attention to the attack/defence of the opening cut (shotachi).

On top of the advice he received, he then adds his own points:

基礎体力の充実:走り込み・腹筋・背筋・腕立て。
切り返し・打ち込み稽古:朝稽古での切り返し、打ち込み稽古の継続。地稽古の後、面の打ち込み稽古。
基本技の継続:機を熟しての打ち切る技の反復。

  • Train your body to become stronger: run, do sit-ups, back stretches, and pushups;
  • Kirikaeshi / Uchikomigeiko: continually practise kirikaeshi and uchimomigeiko. After jigeiko, practise basic men cutting;
  • Continuation of kihon-waza practise: repeatedly execute decisive strikes at opportune moments.

This is a lot to digest, but just reading it has taken us all one step closer to hachidan!

Secrets of Kuzushi (崩し大全)

Inspired by George’s recent translations, I decided to be bold (and possibly foolish!) and offer up one of my own. As most of us know, kuzushi (崩し) is a very important concept in Japanese budo (武道). Kuzushi goes beyond merely unbalancing an opponent; it drives to the heart of destroying the opponent’s mental and physical composure so that a telling blow can be struck.

The following is a translation of the April, 2007 issue of Kendo Jidai (剣道時代2007年4月) “Kuzushi Taizen”(崩し大全).


末野栄二, 八段
1. 恐怖心を与えて崩す
2. 剣先で相手のクセを察知する
3. 剣先の円運動で攻め崩す
4. 手首の使い分けを意識する

Sueno Eiji, 8 Dan

1) Frighten your opponent so that their balance is broken
2) Uncover your opponent’s habits with your kensen
3) Create a offense by using a circling movement with your kensen
4) Be aware of the different uses of the wrist

Continue reading Secrets of Kuzushi (崩し大全)