Edinburgh Genbukan March 2014 Seminar

Confucius says "The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential... these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence." I couldn’t agree more.

Iai is about constantly improving yourself. Be it with the sword or without. The Edinburgh Genbukan Iaido seminar held over the weekend of 8th-9th March was a chance to do just that.

People from different walks of life, different heritages and different jobs all gathered under one roof, linked in soul as Iai practitioners to practice an art which is centuries old. This diverse group of talented, like-minded and affable individuals continues to impress me.

Each and every one of them brings something unique to Iai, be it their technique, their knowledge, that little tip that ends up being a key realisation or that much needed encouragement that makes you feel a little less nervous when you are going into taikai (competition) or embu (demonstration).

The weekend began with visiting Sensei and Iaido-ka, from within the UK and as far as Germany, Italy and Finland, registering for the seminar, with old friends and new catching up and the hallways booming with laughter and good natured banter. The morning was spent with Peter West Sensei (Nanadan Renshi – BKA), John Honisz-Greens Sensei (Rokudan Renshi – ZNKR), Neil Kemp (Rokudan- Eikoku Roshukai), Hugh Darby Sensei (Rokudan – BKA) and Detlef Uedelhoven Sensei (Rokudan – CIF) demonstrating basic sword work and providing instructions that would help all schools practising Iai.

The second half of the morning was dedicated to taikai for both junior and senior groups, concentrating on the odd number kata taken from Seitei Gata. Detlef Sensei and Hugh Sensei provided feedback on the kata to each participant in the junior group. Though I didn’t get to take part due to an overflow in the junior group, watching your peers can be an experience in itself.

A Confucian quote that fits well here is "I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand". Watching your peers and seniors perform kata that you have been doing for 10 months makes you realise where you are falling short and what you can improve. The interesting part of the taikai was that the participant could experience both ends of the spectrum, being judged and being the judge. If being judged is nerve-racking, judging is no easy task either. The etiquette of being a judge was demonstrated and corrections were made throughout by Neil Kemp Sensei.

The lunch break saw everyone come together after a hard morning’s work with the Sensei still giving out helpful tips and instructions. The junior Genbukan members rallied away to make sure everyone was fed, watered and taken care of. Taking care of visiting members is an integral part of any Iaido-ka's training.

After the lunch break, taikai continued this time concentrating on the even numbered kata. This time, John Sensei and Peter Sensei took to providing feedback to the participants, making it a well-rounded experience for all the juniors. I took up the mantle of being Seminar photographer for the day, earning the nickname "Shrakira Kurosawa". I am sure that would bring a grin to Kurosawa san, if he wasn’t rolling in his grave.

The second half of the afternoon was dedicated to allowing the Iaido-ka to line up and receive instruction from any Sensei on any form of their choice. The day ended with a lot of lessons learnt and an equal number of starving bellies. After freshening up, everyone met back at our usual Chinese buffet place for some much needed sustenance and continued with more socialising at a nearby watering-hole. The night ended with old stories being shared and some new friends being made.

Day two of the seminar was again divided into a few groups, with the senior members instructed in Jikiden Koryu and Shinden Koryu (different kata from "old style" schools), and junior members instructed by Detlef Sensei on the most important of kata of Seitei Gata, Mae. A few hours were spent understanding the nuances of the form with Detlef Sensei pointing out individual flaws and how they could be corrected. The session proved to be a revelation and with renewed energy we practised all morning on Seitei, once again having the opportunity to line up opposite individual Sensei for feedback.

Billy Smart Sensei was very helpful in pointing out to me that when the final cut is made and the imaginary enemy is on the floor, your eyes should follow the body of the enemy. This is quite important, as it gives the audience (in a grading/taikai, the judges) the impression that you are confident that the enemy has been killed. When one realises the detail required to make a kata as good as it gets, it can be intimidating, but the key is to practice.

After lunch, the seminar was open to the public for a couple of hours. This had taken dedication from the Genbukan members to get the seminar advertised. Social media sites like Facebook, entries in The List and flyers were used to promote the event. The icing on the cake was when the Consulate General of Japan accepted David McLean Sensei's invitation to watch the embu!!

Everyone dressed even more carefully and the Sensei wore traditional monsuki (wide sleeved robes). That's really getting into the spirit! The embu started off with everyone performing the opening reiho (formal etiquette for bowing in at the start of practice). Four groups were created based on the grades and everyone was asked to perform 5 kata each. This can be a nervous experience but with practice it gets easier. Just about. Watching the Sensei perform embu in their finery, on the other hand, was fantastic. The glint of the blade, the surety of the cut, the concentration on every face, the flow of the monsuki was a story in itself.

The enbu received a lot of positive response from the audience, which was uplifting as building up community relations was one of the main purposes of opening the doors to the general public. Being an interactive session, wherein questions posed were answered by the Sensei, sealed its success.

At last it was time to draw the session to an end and perform the closing reiho. We thanked our visiting Sensei with small tokens of appreciation, following traditional Japanese etiquette and a huge "Arigatou gozaimashita" for their patience, knowledge and guidance. With smiles and hugs, we bid adieu to old and new friends with the promise to meet again soon and continue on this wonderful journey which is Iai.


Shraddha Sen
Edinburgh Genbukan
March 2014