Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Musoshindenryu Katas


Saturday's practice was pretty good. There was a local festival in town with fireworks, so there were fewer people at the dojo and that gave us all a bit more space to practice in. It's kind of scary sometimes to have so many people in such a small space, everyone swinging a katana.

Now that testing is over until March, we have started to focus again on the koryu katas. I started with the shoden katas and went through them man-to-man with my sensei.

The word "Shoden" can be translated as the "entry-transmission", and was derived from the Omori-ryu Iaido. Omori-ryu was said to have been created by Hayashi Rokudayu Morimasa, the ninth headmaster of the Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu, who lived from 1661 until 1732. It has been included in the Muso Shinden Ryu at the entry level, and contains the following techniques:
1. Shohatto (初発刀)
2. Sato (左刀)
3. Uto (右刀)
4. Atarito (当刀)
5. Inyoshintai (陰様進退)
6. Ryuto (流刀)
7. Junto (順刀)
8. Gyakuto (逆刀)
9. Seichuto (勢中刀)
10. Koranto (虚乱刀)
11. Inyoshintai kaewaza (陰様進退替技)
12. Nukiuchi (抜打)
(Thanks to the Kensei Kensan Kai dojo for the above information)

For my 4dan test, I had to do 4 seitei katas (that the judges decided on that day) and one koryu kata of my choosing. I chose #5 Inyoshintai as my kata. If you want to see videos of any of these katas, click the link to the right labelled Kata Videos.

I really enjoy doing the koryu katas. They have a different feel to them then the seitei katas, and though similar in technique (seitei was originally derived from various koryu katas) have some very different situations and movements.

The chuden katas are also very interesting, and I especially like Ukigumo where you are sitting side by side with your opponent, and he reaches for your katana. You pull away, block, and then cut him front to backwards. The picture above is of that kata. I know it sounds gruesome, but that's what the katas are all about. It's the mindset you have while doing the katas that is important and the key to iaido.
More on that next time.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Why Iaido?

A lot of people have no idea of what iaido 居合道 really is. Even many of my Japanese friends have never heard of it. Simply put, it is the study of Japanese swordsmanship. Drawing the sword, striking, and then replacing the sword in the scabbard. That said, people have some idea of what it means.

To my Japanese friends, I say it is related to kendo 剣道. But while kendo is a sport, iaido is a (more spiritual) practice of kata using a katana 刀. Wikipedia actually has a lot of information about iaido and the different styles that people practice. I practice Musoshindenryu and the Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei seitei iaido katas as well.

Seitei iaido is considered "standard" iaido and therefore can be graded both in competitions and also for rankings. Regular koryu styles may not have a set ranking system, and so they often include the seitei katas in their program just for that purpose.

So, why did I want to study iaido? Well, before I came to Japan, I had studied a form of Okinawan Ryute Karate that I really enjoyed. It taught some weapons katas, but not the sword. I really wanted to study sword, and so when I had a chance to come to Japan, I decided that I would try to study a sword art.

I started with Kendo because there weren't any iaido or kenjutsu teachers in the area where I was living, so I practiced man to man with my sensei about 3 or 4 times a week in the mornings. Rain or shine, snow or heat, I was down in that dojo practicing the art. It was hard, but thanks to my sensei's patience and instruction, I was finally getting a handle on the basics of kendo. I got my 1st dan, and was ready to test for my 2nd dan when I moved to a new location.

After I moved, I continued to practice at a new dojo where I met some sensei's who DID teach iaido. Finally, I was able to start studying what I had wanted to from the beginning. I didn't realize at the time how many different groups or ryu's there were, and so I sort of fell into the Musoshindenryu style. I later learned that there were also groups doing Muso Jikiden Eishin ryu and a batto-jutsu style called Toyama ryu.

I knew after my first few practices that this was something I was really going to enjoy learning, and the sensei's and people in our dojo were all very kind. I was right. Now after 7 years of study, I have come to love the dojo, the art, and the beauty of the Japanese katana.

And I'm just beginning...