On Muscle Memory and Sword Techniques

In January, I celebrated the one-year anniversary of my return to martial arts training. It has been quite the journey, relearning Iaido sword techniques along with Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu waza. The past year has been an adventure in rediscovery and debugging. It has also been one of adventure as I began studying two additional martial arts: Jodo and Kage Ryu.

On Muscle Memory and Aging

It's amazing just how well muscle memory works. My body remembered quite a bit, in spite of my five-ish year hiatus. My mental memory? A bit more rusty.

Body and mind remembered the good habits as well as the bad. That's why this time around, I have been more focussed on debugging my troublespots.

One thing that has changed has been the degree of built-up body tension. I lost quite a bit of flexibility during my time off. Blame it on Father Time and an increased sedentary lifestyle during my hiatus. On the plus side, I am stretching more and taking better care of my elbow and knee joints.

My sword cuts have always been a bit wobbly.  I knew this time, I needed to fix that - fast. My progress was slow at first, with my body remembering my old sword grip, and then spending months breaking that down to correct the amount of hand and arm tension.

It is as I say to my students: "Relax your arm until the point of impact." It applies to pressing down on a piano key just as well as it does imagining your iaito striking your imaginary target.

Exploring Local Martial Arts Seminars

I attended three seminars last year, hosted by my club, Ka Muso Kai. The session in February 2014 with Kim Taylor sensei of Sei Do Kai provided a much needed crash course into Iaido kata and basic Iaido techniques. It also gave me a chance to try out Jodo.

Jodo is the Japanese martial art of the short staff. To this day, the Japanese police use the jo for crowd control. There are 12 basic jodo techniques and 12 two-person kata.

I discovered that I quite enjoy Jodo. I appreciate the practicality of being able to use a staff (or even more practical, a broomstick) for defense and containment.

More practice is needed, however. I am finding that learning something new takes a bit longer than it used to. That pesky memory!

In August, Ka Muso Kai Calgary hosted two weekend seminars: one on Iaido with Kim Taylor sensei. The following week, Colin Watkin sensei taught us Niten Ichi Ryu and Kage Ryu. He's one of the prominent sensei in the world for these two arts. Although most participants were from Calgary, our Edmonton branch, Saskatoon and Antagonish clubs were represented as well.

Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu is a Japanese martial art that employs two-sword techniques,  hence, "Ni" (two) "ten" (sword). It was developed by the samurai Miyamoto Mushashi (1584 - 1645) who is famous for his Book of Five Rings.

Kage Ryu is another old sword art.  The waza employ the long sword and sometimes a smaller sword.

Traditionally, practitioners use a choken, but as you see, I have a bit of a challenge with that:

Watkin sensei brought over an old sanshaku bokuto for me to use. I just had to give it some TLC:

The Other Aspects of Martial Arts: Club Bonding Over Geekery, Cards, and...Pumpkins?

One thing we have noticed with our martial arts is that club members are huge geeks. Whether it's photography or anime, tabletop games or LEGO, we are geeks (and proud of it).

In the spring, our club attended the Calgary Expo as an exhibitor. It was such a cool experience. We are all looking forward to this year's Expo.

In October, we held our annual pumpkin cutting event. Our sword technique improved by leaps and bounds afterwards:

At our AGM and Christmas party, we played Seven-Card Samurai. Samurai-in-training beating each other up with samurai, ronin, bandits and ninjas and stealing rice from one another? Rice barrels of fun.


Which brings me to today. I'm serving on the Ka Muso Kai board for a second term. This year's project: revamping the website.

This month, I began working on the ninth Seitei Iaido kata: Soete zuki. Later this year, I plan to grade for my Shodan in Iaido and my Ikkyu in Jodo.

Now, 14 months in, I face the same challenge that I do as a multi-instrumentalist: how to practice all arts regularly with limited time. Thankfully, the sword arts share some common techniques, but quite often, I am limited to a few minutes here and there. My bokuto and jo are situated where I can grab them and review one technique or one kata between students' lessons.

I have even taken to practising footwork during downtimes in my volunteer shifts or ushering job. Lately, I have taken to practising enzen no metsuke when keeping my eyes peeled during a show or when driving.

That's all well and good. However, like music, I also came to a conclusion: it's best to have one primary art (or in music, instrument) that gets the bulk of your practice time. The others take a back seat and are practised on a rotating basis. It seems to be working for the most part, although I guess the true test is when I go for a grading.