Monday, January 31, 2011

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report of two impressive Iaido seminars (English)

held in January René van Amersfoort an Iaido seminar in Dusseldorf and one from Mannheim. Here are two articles in English (author, our Dutch friends), which describes very well how a didactically well designed and should look for modern teaching methods shall Iaido seminar. Just the post in the article is commendable. As I have often led it is a pity that this is in Germany is not a standard yet! But what is up hope, hope dies last.

According to the article Another report of an Iaido seminar, a bit later, also took place in January in Mannheim.

published with permission:


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An iaido seminar was given by René van Amersfoort sensei (7th dan Renshi) in Hakushinkai Dojo in Dusseldorf, Germany on Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th January 2011th This seminar took place
for the first time, although many participants already visited other seminars given by René Germany. Among the participants high grade German iaidoka like Klaus (Sensei of Dojo Hakushinkai Düsseldorf), Udo, Peter (Sensei of Löwen Dojo Braunschweig), Horst, Thomas (Sensei of Syubukan Essen) and also students from abroad (Switzerland, Holland and Belgium). Approximately 35 students in total. The hall was filled and there was enough space for everybody to train.

Dojo HAKUSHINKAI arranged the SHOMEN with their beautiful purple flag and different sort of flowers in the dojo ‘centre’. The atmosphere was very good. One of the reason was that the students were eager and keen on listening and learning and where correcting there techniques on the spot. Saturday training times from 10.30 – 17.00 hours. Sunday 10.00 – 15.00 hours. Naturally together with a few small breaks and lunches to ‘rehabilitate’. On Saturday evening there was a dinner which was joined by a lot of students.

We started with REIHO or REIGI (etiquette). The importance of this was stressed and practised with special attention to performing examinations, demonstrations and competitions.

Following two basic exercises which maintained special attention to the use of the lower part of the body and advises on cutting with one rhythm (and relaxed) at several heights.
Both exercises were explained thoroughly. The different way of moving in both forms, made the students have to think about how to use their bodies correctly.

On the implementation of exercise two, all students were asked tot try to see the difference between exercise one and two. Many of the students couldn’t see this difference due to a lack of ENZAN NO METSUKE. The difference was of course explained after this problem occurred among the students. In this way they were driven to look more carefully at details shown by the teacher. Learning by observing is called MITORI KEIKO.

We went into some ground exercises because it’s iaido after all☺ During these exercises several important issues like: NUKITSUKE, SAYA BANARE, SAYA BIKI, FURIKABURI, KIRIOROSHI, CHIBURI and NOTO were trained and explained.

During one training method the students weren’t allowed to make any sound:
  • No tipping on the ground with the KOJIRI during NUKITSUKE, KIROROSHI or NOTO.
  • No so called ‘SAYA (scabbard) sounds’ during NUKITSUKE or NOTO.

It took a while until the students were conscious on how to prevent making those noises. But when they discovered it, it changed the overall look of their iaido because of the simple fact that their shoulders were more relaxed than before.
Now it was time to combine all the abovementioned exercises together into two basic TACHI WAZA (standing) exercises in which alternately the right and left leg in front was used.

Important point in those two exercises is the SEQUENCE. The students had to learn not to do things at the same time, but how ‘one movement’ is done after the other while trying to keep all movements CONNECTED.

From slow movements and part after part movements we took the level up to fast and total movements. Visible was that all students had problems to keep their sequence and in the same time stay RELAXED and SHARP, LIGHT and FAST when necessary. The teacher also explained MUDA NA CHIKARA, MUDA NA WAZA and MUDA NA DOSA.

Time to move into ZEN NIHON KENDO RENMEI SEITEI GATA. The first four kata were instructed really into detail: MAE, USHIRO, UKENAGASHI and TSUKA ATE using SEIZA NO BU and TATE HIZA NO BU.

We also went through all twelve kata using the under mentioned training method:
Each kata was performed three times
  • The first time in SLOW MOTION.
  • The second time AS FAST AS POSSIBLE.
  • The third time at NORMAL (individual) SPEED and under normal conditions

During the slow motion training method the students learned to pay attention to even the smallest details, while linking the several movements within the KATA together.

During the fast execution of the kata they learned to be LIGHT and FLUID in their movements and feel automatically where the connection within the kata movements occur.

During at normal speed executing the kata, individual students must use their individual possible speed to be able to perform all parts within the kata CORRECTLY and with DEPTH as well as (individual) FLAIR.

JO HA KYU is related to RHYTHM and TIMING in iaido. For example the students were instructed to start drawing their swords slowly, while FOCUSING on the opponent and gradually increasing their speed ensuring that the tip of the sword leaves their scabbards rapidly (SAYA BANARE), while also paying special attention to close their right hand on the TSUKA in combination with the use of the little right finger during NUKITSUKE.

The kata should be performed with FLUIDITY, EFFICIENCY and PRECISION. While performing the students should FOCUS THE EYES on the opponent.

In iaido we speak of KASSO TEKI: an imaginary opponent.

JO HA KYU and KASSO TEKI was fully explained to the students in theory and practical sense by the abovementioned old way training method. Especially KASSO TEKI was stressed. The imaginary opponent always is the same in height and size as the students who tries to express KASSO TEKI. Attacks are aimed at the centreline of the imaginary opponent. The importance to see and cut this invisible opponent was brought thoroughly under the attention of the students.
During the performance of the SEITEI kata the teacher in a way used JI RI ITCHI or BUN BU RYODO meaning: “action and theory are one or technique and its logic must be applied together”.

Very special attention was drawn to a standing exercise before executing the 3rd kata: UKENAGASHI.

During this standing exercise the students learned how to use the full left side of their bodies (from top to bottom; to the feet on the ground), while drawing their swords and turning towards the imaginary opponent in order to DEVIATE the attack of an imaginary sword in one swift movement followed by the KIRIOROSHI in one breath and rhythm (ICHI HYOSHI or better MU HYOSHI), in the same time keeping a nice balance and keeping both feet on one line.

The abovementioned exercise was more difficult then it seems to be, so we stayed quite a while performing it!

Following step was executing UKENAGASHI in the correct way. The students occurred many difficulties in implementing, what was learned in the standing exercise, into the original kata!!

Especially difficult is: TO GET RID OF OLD HABITS!

In this case the teacher shouldn’t be nice to the students. Instead he must try to develop an disciplined environment in which the necessity of combining the exercise into a swift and fluid performance of UKENAGASHI complete with PRECISION and ACCURACY and without UNNECESSARY STOPS and without unnecessary and unwanted interpretations of this kata. There is NO BLOCK in this kata!

Only a so called ‘NAGASU’ practically meaning “to guide the energy one is receiving and to let the energy pass one’s body”. This is what should happen with the energy of the attacking sword after which the defender executes the KIRIOROSHI without stopping and while maintaining the necessary DISTANCE for the kirioroshi to be EFFECTIVE.

In TSUKA ATE the students were faced with, how to correctly attack the front imaginary opponent. The sequence of lifting the body (not by using the shoulders) by using power generated by the lower part of the body in combination with gripping the hilt correctly and by using the left foot and lower left part of the leg correctly before the right leg is put forward in order to execute the attack to the SUIGETSU with the TSUKA GASHIRA.

All students were checked and corrected when necessary. Especially we focused on closing the right and left hand while holding the grip when executing the trust. Shown was also how to execute the kata when under pressure from opponents in the front and rear. Stressed was the execution of the thrust with the KISSAKI to the rear opponent. Many students (higher and lower grades) aiming to the wrong spot! The target in this case must be the SUIGETSU with the consequence that the KISSAKI ends after the thrust pointing a bit inward (in the centre) behind the executioner. Even for high grades this was an eye opener. It was nice to see how the classical instructions led into individual corrections.

In KESA GIRI the attention from the students was drawn to: how to apply pressure (SEMME) into the attack of the imaginary opponent. A basic and advanced method was shown. Also shown were the two cuts performed in one relaxed efficient way. At first sight the students showing many different ways of executing the two cuts. Gradually it came to an understanding between teacher and students, thus lifting the level of KESA GIRI to greater heights.

Now strongly became visual, what the students had to correct. The DO’S and DON’TS became transparent, after which the students had a better guideline to a correct execution of KESA GIRI. Keeping the centre line and not leaning forward or going up and down with the hips or bending and lowering the elbows before KIRIOROSHI, were attention points for the teacher to move into depth and details.

In MOROTE ZUKI the two slightly different ways of lifting the sword above the head were stressed. A question on ASHISABAKI (footwork) in this kata, made the teacher show the correct footwork after which the students were set to work with performing this part of the kata on both sides: LEFT and RIGHT! Some students immediately got coordination problems.

The logic (RIAI) of GANMEN ATE was explained with attention to the first thrust with the TSUKA GASHIRA between the eyes of the imaginary opponent. Not to stretch the arms was explained fully! The origin of this kata was shown by executing the KORYU (old school) kata YUKI CHIGAI in two different ways.

SO GIRI, the 12th seitei kata, was trained repetitively in lines with attention on the start of a movement (OKORI) and how to bring the energy out of the body through the hands on the TSUKA into the MONO UCHI of the sword. After which was shown how to link each separate cut together in order to prevent openings into the ‘defence’. Because: ATTACK and DEFENCE are ONE! Timing and the way of performing movements 4 and 5 of this kata were especially focused on. And three ways of executing the fourth movement were shown:
  • A beginners way
  • An advanced way and
  • An experienced way.

The first seminar day was ended with a lot of coordination and timing exercises trained in lines and sometimes in pairs. Learning points: FURIKABURI differs in time and is a part of keeping SEMME and KIRIOROSHI stays the same in time: LIGHT and SHARP!
Difficulties: the coordination between body, feet and sword handling in order to prevent:
  • Stopping the KIRIOROSHI to high
  • Cutting with only the arms and
  • Bouncing.

During the whole seminar things were stressed like: a good physical condition, but overall a good mental and concentration condition and safety during execution of the several techniques.

To underline what was taught on Saturday, the teacher and a Belgium student gave a JODO demonstration: TSUKI ZUE, SUIGETSU, HISSAGE, SHAMEN, SAKAN and RAINAI. With this demonstration was shown what to do with a real opponent.

On Sunday some KORYU kata were trained: KORANTO and SHOHATTO. In KORANTO many different ways to execute this kata during training were explained and trained. Right and left sides were drawn into activity, leaving some students sometimes frozen on the spot, due to a sudden lack of coordination because of those different approaches of this kata.

A part of SHOHATTO was shown (with a small group of students known with this training method) with repetitive localized actions in order to learn to understand the flow of this kata in combination with the control over the so called HARA. Also stressed was when to “PEAK” in this kata and how to be FLUID when starting with the so called SEMME movement, without stressing this SEMME movement to much! DIFFICULT!!!

The seminar was closed after a practical demonstration of SHOHATTO by some of the higher grades (godan and yondan) students (Klaus, Peter, Horst and Thomas). Even during this demonstration the performers were taught by the teacher, resulting finally in an overall reasonable and correct execution of this kata on this level. It was visible that the performers – because of their continuous training – slowly becoming more quietly in their performance! Thus, less BUSY BUSY, which is a great step forward!

A group photo on Sunday was the end of a wonderful gathering, repeatable in 2012. The students who attended went home with lots of information allowing them to canalize their future trainings according to the correct path. Until next time!



On Saturday 22nd and Sunday 23rd January 2011 an iaido seminar was organized by Namban Tetsu Mannheim. In this dojo kendo, iaido and jodo is trained for many years. Teachers in iaido and jodo within this dojo are Roland Tropschug and Thomas Papkalla. It is in this dojo were Cenet Bauer (the winner of the Shodan category at the European iaido championships 2011 in Paris) started her training and developed into a champion. Roland told me that Cennet is able to analyze the teachings given to here rapidly and therefore able to implement certain things much faster than students normally do. Among teachers this can be a nice discussion, because it’s really a fact that one student can absorb quicker than another student. And also the way of absorbing is with every student different. That’s why differentiated instruction in education is necessary when teaching budo. Also a fact is that a direct student in a one to one situation (teacher and student) can absorb better because the transfer of the techniques is continuous without blurs.

On Saturday we started with an extra training in jodo attended by several students on the spot. A small hour of jodo in which some “new” exercises where taught at first with special attention on points like relaxation and using the shoulder as the centre of moving the jo with the correct use of the hips, thus trying to avoid leaning forward when executing techniques like GYAKUTE UCHI and HIKI OTOSHI UCHI. Those basic exercises where first trained with jo against jo. After which we went into kata with the task to implement what was learned through the basic exercises. That this is difficult was experienced by Roland Tropschlug, Robert Volkmann, Suzi Berko, Stephen and Henrike from Mannheim and Oldrich from Saarbrucken etc. During the training we moved from the first kata TSUKI ZUE into the fifth SAKAN and into the ninth kata SEIGAN. Those kata are part of ZEN KEN REN JODO SEITEI GATA. From there we moved into KORYU CHUDAN WAZA where we practised the first kata ICHI RIKI and then two kata further up in this serie, namely YOKO GIRI DOME and SEIGAN. Although the names of the seitei kata SEIGAN and the chudan kata SEIGAN are the same, the execution of the kata differs. We ended this extra lesson in Jodo with some of the basic exercises we practised at the beginning and thus giving the attendants the possibility to take these “new” exercises back home to train in their dojo’s.

In the meantime the dojo was filled with iaido students coming from different cities: Düsseldorf, Bremen, Braunschweig, Bamberg, Heidelberg, Saarbrucken, Strassbourg and ofcourse Mannheim. Even students from Tsjech Republic joined us. Roland Tropschlug was happy with so many attendants. The group was nicely divided in all levels: ikkyu, shodan, nidan, sandan, yondan and godan. In this way their was as to speak balance in the dojo and the teacher was able to use techniques and explanations on all levels.

We kicked off at 13.00 hours with exercise 1 and 2, slightly different in performance, reason why we stayed a while training them, in the meanwhile explaining deeper parts of these exercises. Slowly the exercises came as to speak “alive” and where gradually understood.

Understanding is a must. Without understanding you can’t speak of KEIKO. Then only RENSHU is left, merely exercising without no deeper meaning.

We went into exercise 3 which involved three cuts reasonable quickly executed after each other while using the correct ASHISABAKI (footwork) and also cutting on three different levels which levels changed in sequence all the time.

Earlier with exercise 2 the teacher showed by using an opponent the correct footwork and SEMME (pressure) and showed what isn’t. Still it was difficult to do it, just because understanding and performing correct techniques takes time.

In SEIZA (sitting position): NUKITSUKE, FURIKABURI / KIRIOROSHI, CHIBURI and NOTO was practised trying not to make any sound during performing. With a slow pace most of the students could do it. As soon as the pace increased in speed, the students became into trouble thus making unnecessary sounds showing that under pressure they can’t control their rhythm and the balance of their movements.

In standing position we went through another exercise 1 and 2 going through all basic movements. This time we stayed long with performing basics, because this is off great importance for all levels, especially for the higher levels. Most of the time higher level students has grown into a certain shape and conditions in which they perform their techniques. On their own it is very difficult to make corrections and to develop to a higher level.

For this you need regular training under the guidance of an experienced teacher.

When correcting students on several points, the teacher without doing this on purpose creates new problems for the student. Often the student has an idea: for example “how to cut”.
With this idea a feeling is attached. When the teacher correct the cut to a higher level, then automatically the feeling attached to this “new” cut is a “new” feeling too! Thus creating “new” problems: for example “the starting and ending of this new movement and all that is caught between the start and the end!” That’s why students have to train for a very long (self)disciplined period under good guidance. In Mannheim the students felt the need for training these basic principles which was felt by the teacher, who could continue on the chosen path without making it boring to do.
A special standing exercise 3 went into working together with a partner of course both on safe distance from each other to avoid injuries. Special attention was drawn to safety matters during iaido classes. The teamwork between both partners consisted of the appropriate using of TIMING and RELAXATION. First of all: DIFFICULT and secondly: TIRING.

Reason of being tired is in most cases the wrong use of TENSION and RELAXATION, because most of the time the students are using to much power in the muscles. Actually the teacher thinks that most of the students use only the outer (external) part of their muscles instead of the inner (internal or lower) part of their muscles. With “the lower part of the muscles”, the teacher means the muscle part which is closer attached to the bones.
And not the outside part which is situated further away from the bones. Study this point for a while!

For beginners it’s important how to sit down into SEIZA position and how to use METSUKE and where exactly is looked at. Also correct HAKAMA SABAKI is important.

Saturday ended at 18.00 hours. The whole afternoon we practised a lot of MAE, USHIRO and UKENAGASHI (this last kata was also performed standing with two handed cuts and one handed cuts). Blending into the attack was stressed in performing UKENAGASHI.

Every time the teacher showed new points from another view in different levels. The lower grades (up till sandan level are beginners and higher grades are the advanced students) learned that being a high grade doesn’t free you off learning. On the contrary the higher grades were really heaving a hard time. The teacher demanded a lot of them. In this way it became more and more clearly that being a YONDAN, GODAN or trying to become a ROKUDAN isn’t just a matter of solely training iaido. No! Students need more than this.

Sunday training started at 09.00 hours. The teacher choose an strategic position in the dojo, from where he could see the students on the rear. We trained the last movement of the tenth seitei kata SHIHO GIRI. We started immediately with training this way, so we skipped the normal basic exercises routine. The atmosphere changed and it became very quiet in the dojo while all students where trying to follow the teacher instructions. It was a technical approach. Then this exercise was followed with REIHO / REIGI (SHOMEN NI REI, TOREI involving TAITO and DATTO).

After a while training in the abovementioned way, the teacher explained what he wanted from the students, thus leading the students slowly to perform at the level which was asked for. Then a exhibition was done by five students from certain positions in which they could concentrate more on executing the REIHO / REIGI individually without being disturbed by the others. Again the purpose of the exercise came alive, after which we trained it again classically. After this period of training the atmosphere was friendly, quiet and technical.

So time for working! And we worked! In a swift rhythm the teacher went from one exercise into the other, less explanation more work. And this was visual on the faces off all students. Sweat was dripping of their faces. From exercising into executing ten times MAE, five times USHIRO and five times UKENAGASHI.

After which we went all to the short side of the dojo and started working in the long side of the dojo. We did a very important exercise in which especially UKENAGASHI movement was trained. But also the whole composition of moving the body, cutting with the sword in balance with the body and things like ZANSHIN, METSUKE etcetera was trained sufficiently. Again we stayed a bit longer with this exercise so that the students were able to implement the corrections taught by the teacher into their movements. Again not an easy task.

Especially because there were students who never trained in this way. This exercise as the other exercises used by the teacher showed the ability and inability of the attendants. Sometimes during corrections it was not understood by the student, because individual students had in some cases a total different picture in their mind than they had to show. And thus a total different understanding of a particular technique. In those cases the teacher went a bit deeper and tried to explain really on basic level, even for students the advanced students.

A fact is, that if the teacher only teaches without making individual corrections or without explaining techniques thoroughly, the development and growth of the students will be very slowly mainly because of a lack of information and (private) tuition.

Of course the teacher mustn’t fill always every “foxhole” during the path of learning, that would make it to easy for the students. But if the students fall time after time in their own pitfalls, then many of them can’t climb out and thus aren’t able to develop to an appropriate level which is normally attached to the level of their individual dangrades.

It’s very important that after students visited a seminar, they are able to train those points shown to them during the seminar in their own dojo’s. Well known is that most of the beginning and advanced students train in a surrounding where for example all the finer points of the SEITEI kata are known. But the problem is maintain and develop every time a higher form of training, thus developing a strategy or smarter way of training. So that the students at last (after many years) can train lots in less time than before! Study this point for a while!

And never must be forgotten that a student visiting a seminar, not in all cases is also the student of the teacher who is conducting the seminar. Seminars are there to gain information and thus being able to continue training with new impulses.

Advise: remember 3 to 5 key points of each seminar. When a students visits five seminars a year, then there are 15 to 25 key points to train during that year! This doesn’t mean that the student will be able to correct himself according to so many key points during that year!

We went into the eleventh seitei kata SO GIRI which we trained a pretty long time. Especially the competition players among the students and those students who are going this year for a higher grade plus the advanced students were trained hard by the teacher.

Again with many examples a lot of corrections were made transparent for all levels in order to gain the most of it:
  • So we stood still by changing from an incorrect posture to a correct posture.
  • We stood still by using OKURI ASHI and KI KEN TAI ICHI instead of jumping to conclusion :-) , so no “jumping” was allowed when executing KIRIOROSHI.
  • We stood still by the composition of the total movement.
  • We stood still by making a nice sound with the sword in order to avoid stretched arms and shown too much arm muscles. A nice sound is mostly the result of correct use of HASUJI. We stood still by the fact that a horizontal cut must be executed totally horizontally and not going up at the end of the horizontal cut.
  • We stood still by the use of the MONO UCHI and thus transferring the energy through the hands holding the TSUKA into the KISSAKI.
  • We stood still at the use of the correct sequence in executing certain movements.
  • We stood still by the use of different levels of executing certain techniques.
  • We stood still by the use of SEMME in order to avoid being attacked after starting of finishing your own attack.

Then also on the long side we trained a part of the KORYU kata SHOHATTO. We did this exercise both with the right and left leg forward. Painfully the students worked more and more on their budo spirit. Training is growing of the heart; growing of KOKORO NO KAMAE. Every training is a building stone to this principal. At the end the student is training just for him or herself. You don’t do such heavy KEIKO for someone else or to show off. This is really working on your INNER SELF!

Think a while what you gained by joining this iaido seminar in Mannheim. Knowing what you can’t do, is knowing what you can do! Study this point for while!
We ended with NUKIUCHI the twelfth and last SEITEI kata. This exercise was explained with an opponent. And also a movement from KENDO KATA IPPONME was shown with an opponent. We increased the level of execution to a higher level by showing the FRIENDLY and UNFRIENDLY approach. So with a hidden part (“the FRIENDLY approach”) in the brain of the student, it was easier to perform a “nice” NUKIUCHI. Most difficult was to execute this kata in such a way, that when the right foot is pulled back to the left foot, the sword at that moment arrives above the head. When the students understood this and some of them where able to perform it, it immediately showed because the RHYTHM of the kata improved instantly! By doing this the NUKIUCHI became one total round movement which gave the student the possibility to avoid the attack in a correct manner and thus staying alive and kicking!

We ended the seminar at 13.30 hours with the proper etiquette.

NAMBAN TETSU MANNHEIM again made it possible to organize a perfect seminar in which both students and teacher flourished and lifted each other to greater heights. It’s MUTUAL POLISHING all the way!

Roland Tropschug reminded us that in the past this seminar started with seven students. In the past years it developed to a very well visited and pleasant seminar. The students were satisfied and went home with old (renewed) and “new” information. Until next time! Before we left the dojo a historical group photo was made.



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