From a letter from Peter West
Dear Gavin and Ray
I have recently been putting together some information sheets for
Kenseikai dojos, and think you may find these useful both for general
use and in preparation for the forthcoming Seminar in Brighton.
Please feel free to distribute them to your students.
Good luck to you all, and see you soon.
Following the high-grade seminar at Romney Marsh last week-end,
and the recent BKA Squad training it has become clear that there is
some misunderstanding concerning important points of Iaido training
which must be clartified.
1. Free Choice.
Students attend classes of their own free will and should not expected
to be made to do training which is too hard or energetic for them.
This does not mean that the instructors should pamper them, but the
nature of the art should be considered (see 2 below). Having said that,
reasonable dojo discipline should be expected as it is part of the art
and its cultural background. A balance should be sought whereby students
are not made to feel rude because they canıt cope, or are hurt because
they are forced to do things they cannot. The instructorıs
experience should allow the balance to be made.
Iaido is most definitely not stamina training. Iaido requires that the
swordsman quickly draw his sword and cut down the enemy with one cut.
For fitness/aerobic stamina, buy a bike, do kendo, go swimming.
Kihon is important, and cuts must work. For this reason it is important
to practice kihon. In the dojo, all that is necessary is 10-30 chiburi
and cuts for the instructor to check technique. The rest can be done
at home, daily, in the garden.
Repeated practice is necessary to improve technique. At each repeat
the correctness and consistency should be examined. This can become
hard work, but it should never be used blindly as stamina or strength
practice. That will kill technique and result in common mistakes such
as dropping the kissaki, cutting too deep, cutting on the back foot,
and in serious cases cause injury to the elbow (katate waza) and
shoulders (morote waza).
Iaido was not designed to give financial support to our growing
number of osteopaths!
3. Sensei/kohai relationship.
There is only one teacher in a dojo. This does not mean only one
at a given time, but only one. If he is not there at a practice then
there is no teacher present, irrespective of the number of high grades
at the session. To clarify:
a) the sensei of a dojo is the only teacher.
b) the students practice what the sensei instructs.
c) the sempai is present only to assist when the sensei requires.
d) the sempai does not, under any circumstances demonstrate or
teach his own interpretation without the express permission of
the sensei. This includes correct use of Japanese terminology.
e) the sempai does not teach techniques or use methods which the
sensei does not use himself.
f) The sempai is a senior student and does not take the senior
side of the dojo for reigi, even in the senseiıs absence.
g) in the senseiıs absence, the sempaiıs task is to oversee the
safety of the practice. All students (including the sempai) should
use the opportunity for their own free practice.
h) The Sempai should attend all practices where the sensei is teaching,
in order to be constantly up-to-date on the work each student is being
expected to do.
i) the sensei is free to appoint any dojo member as the club sempai if
the most senior is not an appropriate character (considering the above
points). Obviously seniority, knowledge and experience will be a
consideration, but the sempai must be a person who adequately represent
the sensei in all things including methods of practice, attitude towards
training and the character of the dojo, etc.
since my last note to you all concerning dojo matters, the question of
hard and soft training has been raised on occasion. There is obviously
some confusion in some places concerning the validity of hard training
and itıs appropriateness to Iaido.
In the hope that some light be shed, I offer the following personal
Training has a number of stages: Keiko, Renshu, Tanren, Kufu and probably
others. These are a natural progression. You cannot move from one level to
another because you or your instructor want you to, nor can you hold back.
They are a natural sequence and the words describe the stages rather than
defining goals or methods.
The beginner needs to learn basic physical technique: How to hold the sword,
how to stand, how to wear it, how to make basic moves, and then to learn the
sequences of moves which comprise the kata. This takes a lot of practice,
patience (both on the part of the student and the teacher), and
understanding of the students difficulties. Thereıs no need to try
and be specific here, we all had difficulties when we started, everyone
is different. This means a lot of repetition, and a lot of teaching
input from the instructor. This stage is called Keiko (practice)
Next the student moves on to Renshu (polishing, or training).
At this level the student has a good grasp of the movements,
and although there may still be some habits to correct and
new kata to learn at the keiko level, generally the training
progresses with greater confidence and requires considerably
less teaching input. At this level the student may develop a
feeling that there is a great deal of hard work to be done
getting the body to respond consistently to what it is required
to do, and he will often need to do many hours of suburi and kihon.
This hard training is a necessary stage for many people, and the
instructor must be ready to recognise it when it arrives. During
this phase the student may find kata to be somewhat frustrating
because nothing ever seems to go right. It is most important that:
1. The instructor understands and allows this phase
2. The instructor keeps careful watch at a distance to ensure the
student doesnıt risk shoulder, elbow and wrist injuries, nor
becomes physically forceful, hard or tense.
3. The class as a whole should not be expected to follow his example.
4. If the student is the club Sempai, that he does not impose this
practice on the students in the Senseiıs absence.
This kind of practice is destructive to those who are not ready for it.
Absolute beginners will be scared away and intermediate low grades could
develop tension and stiffness in their actions.
The stage will pass, and when it does the student will find a greater
freedom and naturalness in his movements.
The Stage of Renshu seems to begin around 3rd Dan level, and comes
to a peak often during 4th-5th Dan. Once it is passed the student
will often have this recognised by receiving Renshi.
Now the practice moves to a profoundly new level: Tanren.
Tanren means to forge the spirit. This is achieved by endless
repetition. Not the hard-work repetition of Renshu, but a gentler
(though no less effective) repetition which becomes like a meditation.
At this stage the movements are mostly correct, and now the mind and
spirit of the swordsman (Kigurai, kokoro, fukaku, kiryoku) is being
forged like the repeated folding and reshaping of the steel to make a sword.
While the techniques are still obviously effective, the swordsman
has no air of aggression, but rather of quiet confidence and a
In the kyu/Dan system, Tanren is the practice level of 6th-7th Dan.
>From here there is Kufu and Shugyo.
Strength in Iaido
Often we are told when training Iaido to be softer. Even ladies,
who, with the best will in the world, are often less muscularly
strong than their male counterparts, are told to be more soft.
This raises the question: Where does the strength come from in iaido,
and how does the cut work?
There are two separate parts in answering this question, one concerns
the movement of the sword and body, the second concerns the
state of mind of the swordsman (person!).
1. Movement of sword and body
The sword cuts by striking the target while the swordsmanıs arms are fully extended (straight). If the arms are bent at the moment of impact, they will bend further from the shock of the strike and some of the energy will be sent back up the swordsmanıs arms, thus decreasing the power of the strike. From this natural but extended position the hands continue down in a natural arc, thus causing the kissaki (literally ³cutting point²) to slice back towards the swordsmans abdomen. It is important not to create an artificial pulling motion as this pushes the energy upwards into the shoulders and upper chest and can make the left wrist position very weak.
The sword is heavy and very sharp. This, combined with the speed the monouchi travels is adequate to do the job. The purpose of shibori is not to add power, but to ensure that the connection between the sword and the swinging arm is stable. The grip should be like cracking a raw egg in a firm and positive manner. It should be possible to cut with the thumb, indexfinger and middle finger of both hands not touching the tsuka. Throughout the cut the shoulders, elbows, wrists and fingers (except little finger and ring finger of each hand) should remain totally relaxed. If they donıt, then the cut will be stiff and slow. The sword should fly forward and down with maximum speed.
As the sword falls into the beginning of the cut, the body should
drive forward, with the front foot stopping as the monouchi reaches
correct distance, ie at the moment of impact. This is important
because, first you donıt want to be in cutting range until your
sword is about to enter the target, and second the forward movement
adds to the force causing the blade to enter the target. When this
happens the sword hits the target with:
1. Maximum speed
2. Stability in the hands and wrists
3. the weight of the arms added to the weight of the sword
4. The weight of the body pressed forward by the back foot.
When all of these things come naturally together you have ³KenTai no Icchi².
2. The mind of the swordsman
When making the cut it is important to be 100% committed to the
action. This is not as easy as it sounds. If you have the slightest
moral doubts about cutting an enemy down, you cannot do it. If you
have the slightest distraction in your thinking, about whatıs happening
around you, about technical details such as foot position, angle of
the hips, the next move: anything, then you have lost it.
The cut must be made with 100% confidence and 100% commitment.
That is the only difference between you and your teacher: confidence
and committment, gained by years of training. When you can cut with
total dedication to the action, free from any concerns about anything
else, then you have ³Kiai².
Breathing is important too. Breathing out with pressure increasing to
match the timing and power of the sword stroke will facilitate the
focussing of the mind and stabilise the abdomen (Tanden and Hara) so
that the power of the contact with the target is rooted in the ground,
and just as shibori prevents the power dissipating into the arms,
so the breath prevents the power dissipating into the lower spine and
legs. A vocalised kiai is partly used to train this facility (though
it has other purposes too).
When all of these element are added together so that the sword cut
is performed with speed, correct shisei (posture of body and mind),
total commitment, not distracted by any uncertainty or doubt, or fear,
and supported by firm and positive breath control, then you have
³Ki Ken Tai no Icchi².
At the last squad training it was apparent that insufficient thought
and effort was given to mental preparation. At the forthcoming summer
seminar, those of you who attend will experience up to 3 events which
need adequate preparation of this sort:
1. The Seminar itself
2. The Grading
3. The European Championships.
Each is a different type of event and needs different preparation.
There is of course no ³correct² or fool-proof method of preparing,
but the following suggestions, if not useful to you in themselves,
may stimulate thought as to what best suits your own needs.
When you arrive at the seminar there is a temptation to engage in
idle chatter while waiting for the Sensei to begin the day. When
they arrive they will probably make a quick mental note of who is
warming up and who is sitting quietly and who is chattering. This
is the first indication to them of who best ³deserves² their time.
When you begin the kihon practice are you able to focus wholly on
the practice without giving in to the discomfort in your body, or
does your mind wander? This is an indication of lack of preparation.
It is important to give your best right from the start, because the
Senseis need to assess your level, and you donıt want to spend a week
being told how to do things you already know simply because you
couldnıt pull it out of the bag when it was needed.
To prepare for a seminar you need to ensure the night before that
all your kit is cleaned, ironed, and in good usable condition.
Take the sword out and check that the mekugi is sound, that the
seppa are correctly fitting and that the sword is not in any way
loose in the Tsuka. Correct these thing now in good time. Ensure
that everything is packed, and get to sleep maybe a little earlier
than normal so that you wake up refreshed and certain that all is
ready. If you have to travel the day before, then some of these
checks need to be done 2 nights before.
Arrive early. On the morning of the first day it is better to
avoid chatter about any subjects other than the seminar. This is not
a matter of being boring, but simply accepting that for the few days,
iaido is the most important thing in your life. It is the sole purpose
for being there.
On the day of a grading you have to put on your best performance,
no warm up, no second chances. This means that the preparation the
night before has to be the best possible. It is important to remain
calm. Make the same checks as the night before the seminar. Avoid
eating too much rich food that will cause poor sleep, and avoid
alcohol which will cause dehydration and reduce attention span.
(Six minutes is a long time to stay focussed with a hang over
On the day of the grading, and in the period leading up to the test
itself, stay calm. Donıt get caught in the wrong place at the wrong
time which would cause you to need to rush and possibly loose your cool.
Find out the set forms at the earliest opportunity, and by reading the
list yourself. Donıt take someone elseıs word for it. (Breathing,
heart rate and concentration are easily disturbed in the presence of
The preparation for competition is virtually the same as for gradings
except that you will need to push yourself to the limits rather than
stay in safe control. This allows for a bit more adrenaline influence,
but must be held in control.
If you win a round, try to remain unaffected by the success as this
unfocusses the mind and can cause over-confidence and lack of control.
None of the above guarantee success, and failing to follow the suggestions
will not guarantee failure. But at such an important time you should
consider why you are there. If you are at the seminar to party and have
a good laugh, then by all means do so. But if you find that you are
ignored by the instructors, or are only told things you already
obviously know, then maybe your presence is respected for little
more than the contribution you made to the air fares. If this is the
week that you choose to push your iaido up a notch, and treat the
dojo as the main reason for being there, and the socialising as
opportunities to further your knowledge and understanding, then you
may find that the teaching is more forthcoming.
Put yourself in the Senseisı place for a moment: You arrive in
the UK after 2 days of travel, jet lagged, tired, feeling very
foreign (despite the efforts of some to minimise the discomforts)
and you turn up in a dojo of 150 students. Most are idly chatting,
some donıt even notice youıve arrived, while some are preparing their
swords with an air of meditation, and others are warming up in a
concentrated and focussed way. Who would you consider, at that moment,
to be the serious students?
Back to being the student again. If at the moment the sensei walked
in he asked you to perform a kata (which he specifies) would you,
without hesitation or adjustment of mind, be able to sit and perform
that kata at your normal best? If not, you are not prepared and are
wasting his time.
Sune ni itte kyu ni awasu. Sune is ³I² and awasu is ³ai². So Iai
means to always be prepared in any situation. If you are not
sufficiently prepared to do iai at an iai seminar
Need I say more?