Because this Friday, April the 3rd is a holiday, there will be no Kenjutsu class that date at the Kinsmen Centre. Class will resume again the next week as usual.
The last class of the year for kenjutsu will be Friday, December 19th. We will start back in the new year with our first class being on Friday, January 9th. After that we will resume the same Tuesday and Friday schedule.
In September we will be stopping our Wednesday class at Kinsmen Centre and starting a Tuesday night class at Newton school. Next week, August 27 will be our last Wednesday class at Kinsmen Centre. We will still continue our Friday class at Kinsmen Centre at the regular time. Our last Wednesday class will be August 27. Friday classes will continue unchanged.
The Tuesday class will start on September 9th at the Newton school gymnasium. The class will start at 6:30pm and end at 8:45. Tuesday classes will run here until the end of June 2015.
Our last class prior to Christmas will be Friday December 19th, and we will resume training Friday January 9th.
Hello Everyone, We will be having two kenjutsu seminars this summer. The first will be on Sunday, July 6th and will be a beginner level seminar. The cost will be 65$. This seminar will be a great opportunity to expose interested friends to kenjutsu while being a good review for those who have already been training. Our goal is to have 30 attendees, including our own students. Please let us know if you are attending so we can keep track.
The second seminar will be on August 2nd and 3rd (the Saturday and Sunday) and will be a more advanced seminar for those who have already trained kenjutsu. It will cover in depth theory of classical shinai kata and iaijutsu movement. The cost for this will be 120$, and our goal as well is to have 30 attendees. As with the first seminar, please let us know ASAP if you are planning on attending.
We will be moving Kenjutsu training back to Kinsmen Centre starting this Friday, July 11th. There will be no class Wednesday July 9th. Class will be at the previous regular time, 8:00pm, and run every Wednesday and Friday.
We are currently planning our performance for this years Kurimoto Japanese Garden Spring Festival in Devon for the annual festival. The date is Sunday June 1st, 2014. Once again, we will be displaying some of the swords and other antiques owned by some of our members. To have the best performance possible, any students intending on performing need to attend class on a regular basis, and keep up on their training. If you are not coming to class regularily and would like to be apart of our performance/sword display please contact Mark asap.
Typically we arrive at the gardens around 10:00ish and we finish the performance around 1pm. The festival runs from 11am - 4pm.
We will be working out a schedule for the performance shortly and will be sending out more information soon. Please check your personal schedules and make the necessary arrangements if you plan to attend the
The last Kenjutsu class for the year will be Friday, December 20th. Training will resume on Wednesday, January 8th 2014.
Noble House will be having a grading on Saturday, January 18. The grading will start at 10:30am. Those grading, and all other students should arrive by 10:00am to prepare everything for the grading. For those who haven't been to one, gradings are something that all students should make every effort to attend whether they are testing or not. It is important to support, and help those that are testing, as well as to witness it. Students who are interested in grading should submit their names to David.
Photos have been uploaded from the 2013 opening of the Kurimoto garden. Unfortunately we were unable to do our performance due to the weather, but we set up our display tent of ikebana and antique swords and still had a great time. Check them out here.
Noble House Kenjutsu is pleased to announce an upcoming seminar over August 3 and 4 in Edmonton. The seminar will cover material in both kenjutsu and iaijutsu. No prior experience is necessary, and all skill levels are welcome. Note that seminar size
is limited to 30 students. For more information, or to register, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sensei will be concentrating on shinai and tanto kata for the near future. Be sure to check your notes and brush up on anything that you may not have practiced recently.
Sensei has been concentrating quite heavily on hard bo kata for several classes. The first section of the kata has had some significant clarifications that seniors should try to incorporate in to their practice. If you have not been to class for a few days, be sure to come by before the class focus changes to another part of the curriculum.
"You are in my sword path! There is no return! No escape! Farewell my friend!" That's the phrase Yamamoto Sensei used to capture the essence of Iaijusu! It is the moment to determine if you or your opponent will live to see tomorrow's sunrise! Enter a true Iai master's sword path or even close to it, is the most horrifying experience you will ever have or you never want to experience it!
Two Iai masters facing each other, their eyes looking deep into each other's soul. Eagles have stopped soaring, Tigers are rushing to find a place to hide, even the sakura are trying to hold on their branches a little longer and shaking into the wind. There is quietness in the air. A spectacular moment will come soon! Intensities and adrenalin is building up fast! There is no time to think, no time to plan! Waiting and waiting! No one dares to make a wrong move! A life time of training is to prepare for this moment. Are you prepared enough? A bone chilling scream! A guest of wind! Dust flying under their feet! Silence . . . You are scared to take a breath, you inhale cautiously, is there any discomfort? Only one can walk away unharmed! Are you the lucky one?
Is there so much luck in this world? There is no luck and you know it! You can walk away and live because you are well prepared. Your long hours of practicing to perfect your techniques, your determination, and your skill will pay off. So you should take full credit for it!
Iai – It has two words, means open and close or departed and back together again. It refers to the movements of the sword and the saya. Draw and return back! The techniques "jutsu" must start with the sword in the saya. That's why it translates to "the techniques of drawing the sword". If the sword is already outside of the saya it is "Kenjutsu", the "techniques of using the sword" or "the art of using the sword" and is not the techniques of "drawing the sword". We should make that very clear!
Iaijutsu "the techniques of drawing the sword” – that means the most important thing is “drawing the sword" and nothing else! There is only one movement “The Draw"! If so, that's simple. Only one movement. That's correct – simple. That's what we want. Simplicity, direct, one movement and to solve the problems.
To do this movement well, it may be simple, but not easy. Firstly, you must know your equipment well. In this case it is our katana. If the katana has come out of the saya and return it back without using your eyes – you must rely on something else. In this case, you rely on your hands and subconsciously guide the sword. This means you “see the sword with your hands not with your eyes".
Most of our Iaijutsu kata in "heart refection style" usually contains one draw, two or more cuts. I usually like to call after the draw a support cut rather than a finishing cut. A chiburi and return the sword back to the saya.
When practicing return the sword back to the saya (noto) you must know the saya well. The left hand has "four movements" the right hand has three. (Ask your instructor to clearly explain it to you and learn it well.) Starting with the left hand touch the kurigata. The right hand at this time should be in chiburi movement or prepare to do so depends on which kata you are practicing. When touching the kurigata you should use your first joint of your left hand fingers and not your palm! Make sure you do feel it before you return the sword back to your saya! Why? Go ahead and find out!
Left hand, right hand and feet movement should coordinate well. After the draw, every cut is a support movement, is secondary! You must not rush to do the second cut! That means draw and cut in lighting speed in one movement! Then assess the result, apply the second cut if necessary or required.
Now the soul of Iai, "the draw". To draw the katana with great speed safely and get ready for the second cut! To do this well you must have a good balance katana, balance in motion, not at rest! The lengths of the sword, the weight of the tsuba, the length of the tuska are all important elements. (If you have been training for sometime, you will know the difference.) If you are training with iaito you need to find one that can stand this type of use.
When drawing the katana from the saya with lighting speed we need superior coordination with both hands. The sword must be free without any friction from the saya, which means not dangerously cutting the koiguchi (the opening of the saya). The saya-biki must be performed well. To let the sword free during drawing, the hands must not pass the center line of your body to grip the tsuka. Allow both hands to meet at the center line and grip with the thumb, index and the third finger only, until the sword is free from the saya then griping with the rest of the fingers. The sword must be weightless during the draw. So, drop your body suddenly and turn, the hand movement, power from the hip and arms to whipping the katana toward the target. All driven by impulse – the thought of "when should I cut" should not exist! The moment of "the draw" should even surprise you! The energy now should transfer to your wrist to redirect the force to the support cut. This should be performed with great cutting power. Each kata teaching you a different angle of attack and defense, but 80% of the target is your opponent’s right lead hand - "the sword hands" and its path. When you are training, please keep this in mind!
Today we practice Iaijutsu it is not the same as a few hundreds years ago! There is no practical value to it! So why do we still spend so much time to practicing it? What are we preparing for? We are not preparing for anything, but rather we are training our mind. Thinking clearly, challenging every difficulty in our life with full confidence and courage. Facing problems and making clear decisions without hesitation and procrastination. Yamamoto Sensei always reminded me, “Procrastination is your greatest enemy in life, and it will make you loose every opportunity. A window of opportunity that could open unexpectedly and would close quickly, so you must always be prepared”. That's why we train!
When we are training Iaijutsu kata we should pay more attention on its beautiful movements - performing as a living art. Performing well means very clean movements, great speed of the draw and shows the intensity of the kata.
It is so simple! Just one cut!
"Is too late to be afraid! Sweet dream baby! "
It was a rainy day. I was outside cleaning the front porch of the dojo. The clouds were getting thicker. The sky changed to a dark grey colour and the rain drops were getting bigger. It did not always come down straight – sometimes it would go around you and sometimes it would go side ways, but eventually it would all end up on you and on the ground.I like the rain. I would usually walk slower when it is raining. I would put down the umbrella, remove the hood of my rain coat, and look up at the sky and let the rain drops fall on my face and eyes. I like that feeling. Refreshing! Even today, when there is no one around me! I also love to see how other people react to the rain. Some would speed up their pace, others would lower their heads and running for cover! Some would even do silly dances just to avoid getting wet! Is quite entertaining to watch, especially when the rain is coupled with the action of the wind. Yamamoto Sensei's home is in Nara, the small dojo is part of the house. When it would rain in this area, it would rain suddenly. The rainfall would be short and would be followed by sunshine. "Don't have to sweep today! Is raining! Come in quickly!" Sensei calling me in a hyper tone - “Go and help Akiko take the laundry inside, (Akiko is sensei's wife.) Your hair is all wet! Go dry yourself first; you are going to catch cold!" "You won't catch cold like that! Cold is from viruses!" Sensei waved his hand, "Just go dry yourself up and don't talk too much! Hurry! The rain is coming.” "Hai" I replied. Who is talking too much, I only said a few words, and it is Sensei himself who was doing most of the talking. Now you see what a little rain can do to people, it even makes sensei restless. I heard Mrs. Yoshida's voice talking to Akiko at the door. I hadn’t seen her since last summer, so I went out to see what was happening. Mrs. Yoshida was an elderly lady in her seventies. She rode a very old and rusted three wheel bicycle, carrying two heavy boxes packed with ice and fish. I heard from Akiko that her husband was injured in the war and lost both legs. They had only one son that died in an accident while working on a fishing boat. Before sunrise each morning, Mrs. Yoshida would go to the fish market and would pickup seafood to sell to the local restaurants. At night she would make waraji (Japanese shoes make with straw) and try to sell them to the locals. She was poor but seemed to be happy. The Japanese government provided them with very little social assistance. She worked very hard into her golden years just making enough money to support her husband and herself. When I got to the door, I saw a familiar face, a little old lady, hunch down and turning up to look at me. The wrinkles on her face looked like the lines on an old map, which told me that she had walked through many endless, long and hard roads. As she started to smile, and her wrinkles even get deeper. “You are here again! Summer holidays? How are you? Are your parents here too? I haven't seen them a few years!" Mrs. Yoshida likes to talk and would have many questions before you had a chance to answer. "You are not much taller than last year!" As she touched my head and looking at Akiko, said "you should feed him more! He is still so skinny! Feed him a few more bowls of rice!" "He doesn't eat much, telling him to eat is more difficult than telling him to climb a mountain" replied Akiko. "Make him some natto (fermented soya beans) mixed with rice! It's good for kids, make them grow taller! " Akiko was laughing and looked at me, "maybe I should make you some for supper tonight!” Ya, right! It will give me an upset stomach and never mine making me taller! Some people do like natto, even for breakfast. I would lose my appetite for a week just smelling it! But if you are on a weight loss program, do give it a try! While bowing down even lower and looking at Sensei and Akiko, Mrs. Yoshida said, "I heard we have a storm coming, all the restaurants are closing early this evening. I have a lot of fish left over! These are good fish! I will give you two for the price of one if you can help me a little and buy one or two more? Or please ask you neighbors if they want to buy some too?" She went to the back of the bicycle, uncover the plastic sheet and open the boxes with her stiff, arthritic, half frozen fingers. "Please let me help!" said Sensei. I went over and try to help but Sensei told me not get too close or I would get my cloths wet! "Please look, those are very fresh; I just picked them this morning! But don't buy this two fish heads. The fish market vendor gave it to me for free, it is yesterday's stock. I put this on the side, they are not as fresh! We will eat it for supper tonight." Sensei looking at the fish said "actually I like to buy those fish heads too! It is good for shabu-shabu (Japanese hotpot) or deep fried. I will buy all these and you keep these two fresh fish for supper." Sensei taught me how to tell when fish are fresh by looking at the eyes; the two fish heads Sensei chose for shabu-shabu were definitely not fresh! Sensei opened his wallet "Please take this and go home early – the wind is picking up! Don't give me a discount – I want to pay in full price! Those are good fish! I have guests coming tonight and lucky you are here with extra fish. If not, I would have had to rush to the market in this weather. Thank you very much. Be careful when you are going back!" I watched Mrs. Yoshida riding her bicycle, in the cold rain with the wind beating on her back. She slowly disappeared in the rain! She reminded me my grandmother, but with much of a different life! For some reason this uncomfortable feeling made my eyes water. Luckily it was raining! It hid it well. Sensei told me before "Samurai don't cry!" I am sure it was not tears, it was just the rain! Sensei helped Akiko divide the fish in a few plastic bags, and hands over his umbrella and gives me some of the fish. "Careful! Is heavy! Please help Akiko bring these fish to the neighbors, go now and come back early. We may have a bad storm tonight! Leave these two fish heads for me; I will cut them up as bait for fishing tomorrow! After the storm, it is usually is good time for fishing! No training tomorrow. We will go fishing in the morning and go to Nara Park to see the deer afterwards!" Sensei smiled. "Don't worry, Mrs. Yoshida will be fine." Akiko gave most of the fish away that afternoon and only kept two for ourselves. We did not have shabu-shabu for dinner nor did Sensei have any guests joining us that evening. After dinner, Sensei was drinking his tea and reading newspaper, Akiko was doing her housekeeping. I was reading my comic books and watching TV. It's just another normal evening in Yamamoto's house. We did not talk about it afterwards. I think we all understood in our hearts that there was no need for an explanation. That night before I fell asleep, I wrote down the last sentence in my little daily in big letter "I LIKE YAMAMOTO SAN".
Our first class in the New year will be on Wednesday, January 9. Hope to see you all there!
Memories of a Saber I was listening to an old record I had it when I was in university – Saint-Saens Violin Concerto Number 3 op 61. As I was looking at the vinyl record cover, I melted into the beautiful melody and some of my university life memories began to slowly appear. It is interesting how music can bring memories alive, just as though it was yesterday. People, friends, the scent of old buildings, studying, exams . . . then memories of fencing competitions started appearing. I actually lost more fencing matches than I won. So it not something to boast about!
In fencing there are three different weapons – foil, epée and saber. The saber was my favorite. It could have been that it seemed more like a real sword and was used with lots of cutting movements. I am quite good at using the saber. At least that was my thought. Combining my secret Kenjutsu techniques and the killer French saber moves, I was able to win a few small matches.
In our university study groups, we often would have heated debates and disagreements with each other. The topics were often about academics and politics – nothing personal. With strong opinions, the room temperature would often raise a few degrees. Soon we would be taking off our jackets and rolling up our sleeves. We were quite civilized – we would never have a physical fight, but would settle our challenges with the saber.
The rules were simple. We would fence on a short wall beside the Clare Bridge. Whoever steps down from the wall first would lose the match. We would put on the fencing mask and gloves. No fencing jacket - just a bare top, no thrusting, just whips and cuts. Those that cannot take the pain can came down from the wall without disgrace.
I heard from other colleagues that Phillip was a good fencer. We had never fenced with each other before as we were in a different fencing class. Phillip was not a very tall person, but had a strong personality. He liked to argue about everything, and this time we were arguing about politics and a few other things. It came to a point when it was time let out some of our steam with sabers.
. . . 5 pm. at Clare Bridge, the sun is starting to set, with a light cold autumn breeze across my face, no referees . . . sounds like a western move coming alive! That's what it was!
I start to take my jacket off. It was cold! And I was thinking this may not be such a good idea! My friends know me well. They know that I am not too crazy about the cold weather. But, I was the one that called the match. So let it be! I’d better win this one quickly! Now I am in my ‘en-guard position’, with my left hand down, right hand with my saber pointing at Phillip's mask! Looks great, feeling good, and waiting for his first move. After few quick exchanges, I received a cut on my shoulder – no big deal! I start attacking and then received another cut on my right arm. "You better get down you are bleeding” Phillip said, “not even feel it” I reply. He surprised me! Is he that fast! Another quick cut came my way! I block it and I responded with a counter attack! I received another cut on my right side just below my chest. I really felt this one!
“You better jump down! You are bleeding pretty badly!” I replied. “I am not going anywhere! Carry on!” Phillip took off his mask, saluted with his saber, put it under his arm and jump down from the wall. “You win" said Phillip he turn around and offer his hand to help me down; I did not accept it. I said “the match is not over!" Phillip replied “It’s over! You win! We have to get your wound look at, come down please!" ... It took five stitches to close the cut.
One evening that summer I told Yamamoto Sensei about this match. Sensei said "congratulations" and carried on reading his newspaper. I continuing talking about the match and my Sensei interjected by saying “congratulations, you have a good friend!” “Pardon?” I replied. Sensei put down his newspaper and said, “Are you happy you won that match? Do you believe that you really won?" I replied, "The rule is – the last one on the wall is the one that won the match, so I did win!”
“Sure, whoever can withstand the pain would be the winner! Interesting! That means you do not have to learn fencing, or waste time with me training Kenjutsu! Just having thick skin will do - so even a cow could have won!”
Sensei was not happy about my attitude that night. As he started to raise his voice a little, “one must accept a loss. Accepting a loss is not an easy thing to do. You must be honest with yourself before you can advance. The fact is that you got hit three times! And you claim to have won the match? Pardon me!"
“Losing is evidence of your true ability, your level. It is only through a loss that will tell you the truth. Based on your loss, you will improve and will win one day. Accepting the loss will allow you to know yourself better. You will also know your opponent better. Learn from your opponent and advance together to a higher level. That was no winning or loss or rules . . . you lost to this match because you are not good enough, your attitude, your ego, and certainly the cold did not help either. You won because you have a good friend."
I got to know Phillip a lot better over the years and become friends. We liked to practice outdoors instead of the gymnasium. We would fence everywhere on the university grounds, even at the Scholar's Garden. I would win some matches from time to time; there were no more bare top matches. I am not quite sure if I really won or if it was Phillip's empathy. I never ask him for that. Is it really true that I can learn from my opponent and win? May be! I wonder.
As the last piece from the record comes to end, I flipped the LP to the other side. It is moderato – a beautiful, but slower movement. For those that play a musical instrument will know that slower ‘moderato’ or ‘adagio’ is more difficult to play well than the fast movement such as an ‘allegro’. It cannot be rushed. It takes time and patience. It takes a life time of improvement to play it well.
Now that Yamamoto Sensei has long passed away and my saber shows its age with a little rust on it, it is still good. I think about my Sensei on occasion – his teachings and his wisdom. Do I really dim my ego and accept losing honestly? I do try. At least I try... But do I try hard enough? Well it also takes time and patience. I am not in a rush or it can't be rushed... I have plenty of time to keep trying . . .
Practice less, don’t work too hard, it is better for you! During the past few months while I was observing my students (suburi) practice, they appeared to be working very hard and putting every effort into the practice - at least in my presence. Do they really get anything out of the practice? Maybe, maybe not, maybe the technique is getting worse! It is dependent upon how you practice.
I once had a senior student told me that he practiced 300 cuts a day. Another student heard this student’s comment and replied, “I practice 400 to 500 cuts a day", and then another student interjected into the conversation and said, "I practice 1500 cuts a day"! I then asked the last student “how much time does it take you to practice 1500 cuts? His reply was, “around 25 minutes". I then asked, what are you thinking about during these 25 minutes? “I am counting!" I replied, “You better not lose count, or you will have to start all over again!”
Suburi is a repetitive movement technique. If you do it correctly over a short period of time you will show improvement. It is a method of programming information into your subconscious mind – part mentally, and part physically. If you use the correct technique, with each cut you make, you will improve. With the wrong technique, the opposite results will occur.
In the beginning, the body will train the mind to recognize what is the correct movement and what is not. The mind will analyze this information and retain it. After continuous, slow and careful practices, the mind will take on a role in correcting and perfecting each movement.
Each person has their own way of practicing and each teacher will have their own method of teaching. The final goal is to achieve the results and ultimate techniques of perfection. If the goal is achieved, and you have not injured yourself, there is no right or wrong method of practice. My recommendations for the practice of suburi – is to start with slow correct movements, doing each step in detail required for the movement. Then practice until you become tired or have lost your concentration. This could be from 50 to 80 good quality cuts and then you should stop. Any further practicing will not necessarily improve the end result. In fact, you may suffer from injury in your muscles or in your joints. Until your technique has improved, and you have become stronger, then you can consider practicing a little longer. After all, suburi is a life-time of training.
Remember, cut with your mind!
As autumn comes, that beautiful golden and red color reminds me of a time when I visited my sensei’s dojo. Normally, October is not my training season, but that year I accompanied my mother to an ikebana conference in Tokyo. So, I had a chance to visit my sensei again. The Dojo was the same: clean, quiet, everything in order. But I see that the garden is a bit different. The trees only have a few yellow leaves on them. That maple tree, I remember it was full of leaves in the summer and now only has a few red leaves. It is still beautiful, just different. It gives me a chance to see what those branches are really like. But I was hoping to see it in full autumn color! As I was day dreaming and watching the sunlight go between those tree branches, I heard Sensei say "You should have come a few days early kid. Don’t you remember that one of the classical poems said: ‘If it is time to pick the flowers, you should pick them. Don't wait another day, you may miss your chance!’ It was full of color
a few days ago. The leaves are still here, just on the ground! But it is good you are here now, you can clean up the leaves!"
class on Friday, and no longer need to arrive at the earlier time to tie bundles.