Ryuseiken Battodo

Japanese swordfighting

I ran into Seth Pepper yesterday at a cafe. Seth's the videographer working with Shihan John, but also happens to be a former swimming champ. He was ranked fourth in the world in the early/mid-1990s, and missed making the Olympics by 4/100 of a second in the trials.

As a sport, swimming is far further evolved than what we have in most martial arts, not simply in being an Olympic event and having collegiate & national teams everywhere. It's in the level of teaching and coaching that occurs in swim teams, the dedication of the athletes, and the organization pervasively at all levels of schools.

Take athletes for one: I consider someone who is going to dedicate more than casual/hobby interest, train several times a week, seek out how to improve themselves to a fine degree, and consider all the dimensions of the problem. Notice I don't say that you have to be big, strong, fast, agile or otherwise. These are the proficiencies that come out of that degree of training.

Most of our students are interested in battodo as a hobby or lifestyle interest. Don't get me wrong, this doesn't mean that they don't enjoy it, or are not skilled. However, athletic training means giving up much more of your time every day or week to focus on training.

Seth gave an example: in swimming, you need to learn not just how to pace yourself, but know in your head what pace you are going at (e.g, low, half-speed, 90%, maximum, full out) based on your ability. This is something you need to do while you are in the midst of the actual exercise. In other words, you may be going full out, but need to be thinking not only of the technique but that you are going full out and may not have the stamina or strength after that technique to continue. This is pacing strategy: knowing when to apply the right pace.

Pace is only one factor. Positioning is another; not in terms of where you are physically, but in relative terms of: "what do I do in this situation?" That applies to all competitive sports. Both pace and positioning can be trained entirely mentally; i.e., pictured in your head without ever doing it.

The factorI find is that most practitioners in our sport has primarily been focused around collecting "techniques", which becomes a limiting issue. I'll save that for another post.

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Comment by Andrew Dicenso on April 2, 2009 at 3:07pm
I think the thing you mentioned in this post that really struck me is your "collection of techniques" comment. I don't know what your thoughts are in particular on the subject but from training at the university twice a week I have noticed a certain rigidity in the practitioners. It seems they acquire techniques and become highly "reactionary" in their movements and responses in most areas. For example, a simple mako-giri is always countered with the traditional block that fits with it. Looking at some of the practitioners is almost like looking at something choreographed sometimes, and it seems to transfer to very rigid cutting which also has a classic choreographed feel to it. The "Cut 1....Cut 2...Cut 3" kind of deal. In my opinion at least, it seems we have not had a lot of "Practical Practice" with a lot of these techniques that forces one to blend and utilize techniques efficiently and not in a robotic nature. These are my observations at least, feel free to counter.
Comment by Al Kilgore on April 2, 2009 at 9:11am
This makes me think of Daniel Ebihara Sensei. I met the 70 year old last year at his dojo, he teaches a very dynamic kendo class in Manhattan. The best I have ever seen and I visit every dojo I can. He was one of the higher ups for many years in the American kendo scene. Currently, kendo is experiencing an internal argument about whether it is a sport or an art. To Ebihara, it is an art and offers really different things than a sport does. This is interesting because most people who play kendo have really very anemic training regimes. Your observation about what makes an athlete seems to highlight what are often the differentiating factors between those who win and those who lose when playing. Ebihara, like others, has had the internal conflict resolved be trying to reconcile both in a world view that really does incorporate what he does with the rest of his life.
Sport, often leaves this out. The overlap probably has to do with active training. How often one goes to class and how much one dedicates to the art- or sport, will most likely be the difference between the common mediocrity, and a real adept along the path.
Nothing replaces regular training that truly challenges one in terms of technique and insight. To get that, one must have a strong training regime and do it often.

Web sites & Resources

Matsuri: A Festival of Japan (2008) - Phoenix, AZ, Feb 23-28, Heritage Square

Battodo Ryuseiken in Japan. Also a partial site in english.

The Kodenkan of Tucson

The UofA Ryuseiken Battodo on the ASUA site

Tameshigiri.com - where we get goza. The ordering and shipping process are given.

Hanwei/Paul Chen swords

The Knighthawk Armoury builds some interesting realistic looking goshinken. They're expensive but they claim to be pretty durable (not yet tested by us).

Folding a Hakama the proper way

Woodall's Custom Workshop makes nice cutting stands for tameshigiri.

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