Friday, April 8, 2011

[Karate] Ipponme Mae

First off, before anybody freaks out, I'm continuing to categorize my Iaido studies under "Karate" for no particular reason other than that I've been classifying all of my martial arts articles under that category. I suppose I could have used a broader category like [Martial Arts], but at the time I started writing about the subject I was really only focused on Kenpo and Goju-Ryu styles, so [Karate] seemed appropriate. I have, however, recently added labels to my blog, so if you're looking for particular subject matter, you can drill down by selecting the link for "Iaido" or "Aikido," or you can see all of my martial arts related articles by clicking "karate." So that's all it is - just a category for the convenience of people trying to sort through my articles (which cover a wide array of topics. Probably too many for most people). It doesn't reflect my opinion or definition of what constitutes "karate" or any other style of martial arts.

Regular readers will recall that I traveled to Ottawa last month for a seminar in Musō Jikiden Eishin-ryū conducted by Sensei Robert Davis. The wonderful thing about seminars, for me, has always been the exposure to new information, things I'd never seen or done before, or just differences in how the knowledge is taught. Sometimes, as with Iaido, the skills are all new. Other times, as with some of the Aikido seminars I attended years ago, it was a chance to practice familiar techniques with different people, or to gain insights into them simply because they were being taught by somebody different.

The one thing I hate about seminars is that afterward I feel the new knowledge I've learned - skills that seemed natural and obvious to me at the time - quickly leaking out of my mind and fading away. Aaaargh, I hate that so much. I want that knowledge. I want to keep it. I want to use it to refine and perfect my technique. I want to have it to use. Losing it really aggravates me.

For that reason, I've begun to think that it might have been for the best that this first Iaido seminar was only three hours long. We learned a lot in that short time, but not so much as to be completely overwhelming. I wish I could tell you the techniques we learned, but my auditory memory is terrible and without seeing them written down, the names flitted away, lost to me. I remember the techniques, though. Or at least I think I do.

We started with some basic stances, the drawing of the sword, the resheathing of the sword, and chiburi, which is the shaking off of blood from the blade. Then we learned two standing waza. In the first, we'd take three steps forward, stopping with the left foot in a half-step before taking a full step forward with the right foot as you draw and make the initial cut with the blade. In the second, the left foot continues on through, and the initial strike is made with the left foot forward. Both follow the first (horizontal) strike with an overhead strike (we used to call the barehanded overhead chop a "shomenuchi" in Aikido. I'm betting it has a different name when performed with a sword, but I don't know what the proper term is, so we'll just stick to English), then a chuburi, and a resheathing of the sword.

I'm not certain I'm doing these techniques 100% perfectly. Well, let me rephrase that - I'm positive that I'm NOT doing them 100% perfectly. Probably more like 10% if I'm lucky, at least in terms of the details that are so important to proper Iaido. What I mean is that I may be making gross mistakes. For instance, I know that in some of the waza we practiced, we dropped a knee as we resheathed the sword. I'm positive we did that in the techniques that started in seiza (kneeling) posture. But I cannot remember whether we also did it when the technique was entirely standing. So for now I'm only bending the knee on seiza-based techniques like Ipponme Mae.

Which brings me to the other set of waza we learned - four different techniques all performed from the seiza position. Each of the four is performed facing a different direction to begin with, but you always end up attacking a target who is to the front. Which is to say, in those positions where you're facing left, right, or to the rear, you must turn yourself because the enemy is always in the same place.

Now I'm not sure if ALL of these variations count as ipponme mae, but I think they might. Regardless, the front-facing waza performed from seiza is definitely ipponme mae. I like ipponme mae quite a bit, and I read somewhere that "all of Iaido is contained in Ipponme Mae." I don't know whether that's true, but it surely seems like a great place to start. I've also read that many Iaido students learn and perform nothing but Ipponme Mae for months when they first begin to learn the art.

I've taken down the cheap piece of crap decorative samurai sword from the rack over my writing computer. It's a poor-quality replica of a real sword, and I noticed after using it for a bit that the whole thing has a bit of a rightward curve from the handle to the tip of the blade. But it's roughly the weight and feel of a proper Iaito blade, and it has a saya (sheath), so I've put it to work. At least three or four times a week, I take that sword to the dojo and I practice what little I know of Iaido. It's my sincere hope that I'm not setting too many bad habits in stone that will need to be chipped away later on, but I'm determined to keep as much of that knowledge as I possibly can. When it's time to learn more Iaido, I hope to be ready to correct some of my errors and absorb more of this precious and all-too-rare knowledge.