Darlington 2012 Seminar and Grading
This article is brought to you by the number 45 and the letter N.

The seminar was split across 2 locations, with those grading at the education village. I was in the grading group, feeling slightly nervous about my preparation for taking my 3rd Dan grading.

Slightly unusually for this seminar all of those grading were simply put into one big group rather than being split into groups based on grades. We spent the majority of the first morning practising one thing – was our o-chiburi finishing at 45 degrees. This had apparently been a large minus point against a number of people at the European taikai and grading the previous weekend, so our teaches, Chris Buxton Sensei and Jock Hopkins Sensei were eager to ensure that we fixed this as soon as possible. To this end we were paired off so we could take it in turns practising and correcting our chiburi.

It was refreshing to have the opportunity to spend so much time on a single motion at a seminar, rather than focusing on an entire kata at a time, although we did spend a fair amount of the time discussing what actually was 45 degrees and what bit of the sword/arm/body we should be measuring this against, and in what planes. All in all a good iai conversation about smaller details than some of us had taken time to properly consider.

The rest of the morning session was spent focusing on another major minus point from the previous weekend, the transition in Mai from nikutski to kiriorosh. The general mistaking being in the jodan position before the second cut – either with the kissaki dropping or a hesitation before starting the cut. I found trying to combine the two with smooth timing and something anywhere near resembling a real cut to be immensely frustrating at the best of times. I rapidly lost count of the number of times one of the Sensei walked past and despaired of my inability to do two such simple things at the same time. “No! No hesitation! No! Dont drop the tip.” This quickly became a very familiar refrain.

After about 30 minutes of further pair practise on this I had managed to find something that made the Sensei a little happier with my form, finding the solution for me to be the application of correct finger work and better application of the hara (being a fair summary of what my Iaido as a whole needs currently, Mai really does teach us so much!).

After lunch we moved on from attempts at 45 degrees and doing 2 things at once, to try and cover the rest of the kata. We covered a number of different technical points about the placement of the feet and the importance of the correct type of finger grip at the correct moment. After such a painstaking effort over the morning I confined myself to trying to pick one thing with each kata and trying to improve it, rather than failing to improve everything at once. This still managed to elicit a fair bit of despair from the Sensei, but I did manage a few precious breakthroughs where I did actual manage to do the kata a little better, even if I then couldn't repeat them.

The next morning saw the grading group trying to remember what it was we had done the previous day to achieve the precious 45 degrees and the all important tip-up-no-hesitation cut. After about half an hour of this we moved on to blasting through all the kata again to see how much we remembered on the new teaching points. Finally it came to the moment those of us going for Dan grades were anticipating and dreading – the announcement of the kata. I felt relatively lucky to be given 1, 3, 7, 9, and 10 as I was by now feeling slightly happier with those than some of the alternatives. We were left with an hour before lunch and then the grading.

As it turned out the Jodo gradings were first, so we were allowed one last chance to do some practise before our turn came (which most people spent practising reiho, wresting with their sageo and hoping they would behave when the time came). I was in the first group for 3rd Dan, and was told that we would be taking the seats just off court in front of our spots before the judges would be ready and called us on. This was exactly what I wanted - an extra minute to collect my nerves, settle my mind and make sure I was certain which kata I needed to do. Just as I was preparing to sit down we were suddenly waved on. No time to sit, no time to think, just time to grade.

Instinct took over and before I knew it there was that strange out of body feeling of my mind picking at every tiny mistake and my body just getting on with the job in hand. I remember as far as the second cut in Mai, and my mind screaming about how many of the things from the weekend I'd forgotten to do already, before I just switched of my brain and let the grading happen. The next thing I remember is walking off with my sageo in a mess and a vague feeling I had at least got the right kata in the right order. Hopefully.

After an interesting wait watching the higher grades' gradings, and the chance to congratulate some friends on their jodo grading successes it was finally our turn. With no hesitation, keeping my hopes up and a nagging feeling that I hadn't managed a chiburi anywhere near 45 degrees, my gaze caught the results board and found I had passed. I made sure I took the time to thank my teachers from the weekend, and my dojo leader, David, for helping me bring my Iaido to this level. Next stop, 4th Dan.

This article is brought to you by the number 45 and the letter N.

Matthew Bielby, 3rd Dan