How can you tell you have been at a weekend-long martial arts seminar? You might have bandaids or tape on your big toes and heels (perhaps the balls of your feet too); your feet likely burn in the shower; and you could really use a neck and shoulder massage. I made it through the first two days without taping anything and I am proud of that.
This weekend, I attended The 2014 Sei Do Kai Spring Jodo and Iaido Seminar. I was on the fence about attending the seminar for personal reasons. In the end, I decided I was going and I was going to have a good time.
Sometimes I get anxious when meeting new people as I am a bit introverted and I often stress about my word choice and accidentally upsetting someone because I used the wrong words… I also get anxious about food since I often have to plan ahead to ensure I will be able to eat, though I think that is improving.
The trip there was interesting. I learned more about my sensei via his taste in music… The conversation was not terrible either.
When we arrived on Friday, I realized I probably over-packed because I had to haul my wheeled suitcase up three flights of stairs. I should get a smaller one, but I did not want to spend the money. After getting settled in my room, I went with a dojo mate to what became the party suite for the weekend. There always needs to be one of those. I felt bad for anyone assigned to that suite that hoped to get sleep.
There were a bunch of fun people in the party suite, as you might expect. One of the guys was recovering from a heart attack and the others had made him a special shirt that basically said no fun allowed and he frequently cursed them for it. I learned I had some renown already because of my tiny stature. I had to bring out my Tozando Toryumon Zero 2.00 Shaku sword as people were curious about it since they had never seen one so small. Impressively small… I suppose that is my thing? I was teased about my sword a couple of times, but it is just as capable of stabbing as everyone else’s, and several people said it is a very nice sword so 😛
My dojo and another headed to The Shakespeare Arms for some tasty food. I really enjoyed the wings. Then it was back to the party room where I had to again explain that I do not drink alcohol anymore, but it was not necessary for me to be drunk to dress up as a unicorn… Add Cards Against Humanity and a bunch of drunk people, and you have a fun night even if some of the question cards and answer card combinations were awkward for me. I joined the game late and had three black cards by the time it was won.
On Saturday, I got to the dojo early and helped with set up. This was mainly placing chairs for the senseis at the front of the dojo and chairs for the vending tables. I got my free t-shirt for registering earlier than 3-4 days ahead and a notebook.
Everyone bowed as the sensei entered the room and class began. It took quite some time to organize everyone into ranks and position properly to allow ample practice space for each person. Better established lines on the floor may help this in the future.
Class was structured differently than I was used to, but I think the sink or swim atmosphere was good for me. We ran through all the kata multiple times. There was a fan above my head, so I often could not hear the name of the kata and had to mimic what everyone else did. Next time, I think they should have a microphone for the sensei, but sound equipment rentals can get expensive. There may be cheaper ways to amplify their voices.
There were challenging moments, particularly when the sensei had us hold awkward positions at the end of a motion with our sword expected to stay in the air. They would come around and correct our footwork and sword use by physically moving us into the correct position. With more than 100 people there, we had to hold uncomfortable positions for long moments. One starts to learn to adjust one’s body position slightly to withstand this torture fairly quickly. At one point, I swear I felt my right arm muscle tear and then the pain went away. I think as I pushed through the pain, I became numb.
I was annoyed when a dojo friend suggested that Iaido does not make me sweat because I am not working hard enough. I do not sweat when I do Iaido, because my lower body takes at least seven hours of intensive cardio in the form of roller derby each week. Three of those hours are right before Iaido class. I never got to the point where I could not walk this weekend, though the seated kata became very difficult on Monday and I focused on standing instead. I even did the stairs and walking more often than most people because I had to come back to the dorms to get my lunch from the fridge. My shoulders and neck, however, were very sore from swinging my sword.
Saturday evening was the auction. There were a lot of neat things, but there was only one item I wanted and I won it. It was a heart-shaped necklace from Éclat de Brilliance. I have several of their pieces as I love the work they do. I am hoping to get a custom piece from them in July as a birthday gift to myself. I could not resist the blue in the necklace as it is my favourite colour.
After the auction, it was back to the party room, or rather the room next to the party room. After two requests, I had to don my unicorn costume once again. The unicorn costume lead to one of the senior senseis calling me unicorn girl and painting my name in katakana on rice paper. It literally comes out to “Rei An”. Maybe I’ll make that part of a pen name someday. And of course there were the inappropriate jokes surrounding the horn on my head. Not that I am ever inappropriate, right? 😉
Drunk martial artists can be interesting, especially when they start demoing techniques in tiny hallways. I was sent to spy on what was going on. I tried to be subtle, but a unicorn costume and stealth do not really go together. It looked to me like a lot of thrusting, but I am sure there was deeper meaning behind it that I am not at a level to grasp yet in my training.
For Sunday class I actually remembered the kata and could almost associate them to their numbers. I started to feel silly for not signing up for grading prior to the seminar, but I previously could not do them without being guided through most of the steps by my sensei much less know exactly where to stop my cuts. As we went through the kata, I kept hearing his voice in my head on many of the finer details for my level. Aside from not knowing the kata, I have not had much time to breathe since Easter. I have travelled quite a few weekends between family visits, and a roller derby tournament. I have also had other things like Comiccon and writing seminars. Add a full-time job and some dates and I really felt like I needed to just soak things in and not worry about my rank. I will grade in Toronto in December assuming I can pull the funds together to go.
Sunday was the bbq/potluck and movie/poker night. I helped get things set up for the movie and then I watched people play poker. Eventually, I got tired and headed to bed. As I was climbing the three flights again, I heard raucous laughter coming from the party suite and decided I wanted in on the fun. Who needs sleep to swing swords around anyway? I expect something similar happened with my sensei as well as he ended up there after losing his chips. We played President or better known as “A-hole”. I shared playing with a new friend for one round, and I got President in the next round and then we switched games. Next was Tsuro, which was a neat puzzle game. Then we played several rounds of The Resistance. I hear it can be played with a regular deck of cards. More about resistance can be found here. I finally got to sleep around 2 a.m.
On Monday, I was somewhat sad that the seminar was coming to an end. I had so much fun getting in touch with my art this weekend. Monday was my favourite day because I got to practice with a friend from my dojo with occasional suggestions from Green Sensei. My friend corrected my noto, helped me improve my cuts, encouraged me to slow the katas down, and taught me that position (especially hips) is key to proper waza. His comparisons to things like elbows helped put things into a context I could grasp and work with. I liked when he tried to compare things to roller derby, though it was evident to me that he does not know much about roller derby. The effort was sweet and I appreciated it. Thanks again for the help, dojo friend.
I am still having trouble with saya-biki and hakama-biki. I especially have trouble with my hakama during Nihon-Me Ushiro and Sanbon-Me Uke Nagashi. It is important to improve on this as “dying” because I am standing on my own pants is lame and who knows when the zombie apocalypse may be upon us!
Some general things I learned:
- It becomes waza with mindfulness and heart. Always try to think of what your opponent is doing and feel your opponent.
- It is okay for beginners to focus on form alone, so do not stress if you cannot fully visualize everything yet.
- Breathing is important! Hold breath on draw and breathe out on cut (through nose).
- Think of hydraulics when performing Noto. Breathe in to prepare core for a cut. Breathe out as you strike or lower yourself.
- Before cutting, raise your left hand above your head and push straight up with both hands like you are pushing the ceiling/sky.
- Cut as if you are scraping the ceiling with the tip of your sword and like you are pushing the wall as you bring the sword down.
- Try to stay low throughout (do not bob) as it gives you power.
- Get the hips to the right spot and the feet *should* follow.
- When gripping the sword, you need to get the hand bone on top. This is an easy thing to practice while watching TV with your sword or another object that you need to grip like a hammer.
- Do everything slower. You have time to position yourself and look to see your opponent before he attacks you. Getting into the right position is vital to killing him before he kills you.
By the end of the first day, my brain felt overwhelmed from all of the information that the senseis provided. I was somewhat surprised to learn people had travelled from different parts of the world for the seminar as I am used to practicing with a small group. At the end of the second day, it was not so overwhelming. At the end of the third, despite my body feeling broken, I wished there was more class. This weekend, I fell in love with my martial art and I am excited to continue learning about it and the sets beyond Setei.