In December, I mentioned I was entering a period of reflection and austerity focused on training versus exposition. Spring is now in bloom and I am pausing to look back over the last five months.
Posture and Relaxation
I have been working on Cheng-style Baguazhang, focusing on my expression of the 8 Mother Palms (ba mu zhang) and 8 Big Palms (ba da zhang). I recently received corrections on my postures from my teacher in a manner that pulled the internal aspects of the postures into the mother palms and the dynamic, ever changing, feeling of bagua in the big palms.
I have been teaching Xingyiquan to one person and working through form and applications of Dragon and Tiger; focusing on keeping external and internal harmonies present in my practice. I am also spending time in San Ti, as well as in post standing practices drawn from Taiji and Bagua. I have been focusing on body posture, especially in the waist (yao) and hips (kua) and cleaning up my stepping in Xingyi to ensure each movement has the right driver.
I have been working on Taiji spear (qiang), focusing on fundamental thrusting and circling practices with the spear, and drilling segments of the Taiji spear form, focusing on each individual subset of tactics. I am also beginning to learn the 83 Posture Wu Taijiquan form of Yang Yuting from my teacher.
There will be a seminar by Zhang Yun hosted by Paul Cote in Silver Spring, Maryland on June 8-9 where part of the time will be focused on the beginning section of that form. This is probably of interest most to Wu Taijiquan stylists who want to deepen their practice but may also be of interest to Yang stylists who are interested in exploring similarities between the arts as practiced today. Please contact Paul Cote (firstname.lastname@example.org) for pre-registration information.
Spirit and the Sword
I have continued my solo practice of longsword (jian) and sabre (dao) from Bagua, Xingyi, and Taiji as well as my practice of kenjutsu. The latter has been quite interesting for me lately, from a shugyo perspective. I have been examining my older practice of Katori Shinto-ryu through the perspective of my current knowledge. For this practice, I use wooden swords from Kashima Shinto-ryu and Nen-ryu for my practice, so that I have an implement that can be the same across the different kata I have learned (Shinto-ryu, Jikishinkage-ryu, Shinkage-ryu), and have the length and heft of a traditional Japanese sword (nihonto). I have focused my cutting actions to be universally that of Jikishinkage-ryu where there is overlap between the arts. In an instant, you can only cut once. I am practicing the omote-no-tachi, gogyo-no-tachi, and shichijo-no-tachi with the longer weapon and focusing on keeping zanshin between segments of the form. Over the next six months I am going to continue that exploration on iai/batto and naginata.
Once I integrate my Shinto-ryu naginata practice with the body mechanics, zanshin, and kiai I have come to expect in my kenjutsu practice, I am going to revisit Jikishinkage-ryu to-no-kata to determine a set of tactics compatible with the kabbala of Jiki that can be performed with naginata. I have had good fortune exploring Jiki with odachi and found that both Hojo no kata and To no kata have analogues with the larger weapon. I then will explore the Shinto-ryu naginata and tachi kata with odachi as well.
I have written on this blog previously about some of the distinctions between Shinkage-ryu and Shinto-ryu, and my efforts to practice both, and how Jiki Shinkage-ryu changed my view of what kenjutsu could be. All that still stands, and having taken a pause from Shinto-ryu, focusing on Shinkage-ryu and Internal Martial Arts (Bagua, Xingyi, Taiji), I can't go back to practicing a martial art in an external manner. But what I can do is look at an art from the perspective of the internal, and see how I can maintain internal ideas in my practice. For this, it is good to not be attached to a school. I've long felt that Jiki Shinkage-ryu, done properly, is an internal art. I will write more about this in the future. But Jiki Shinkage-ryu is also restricted to tachi and kodachi in its practice. I am curious what a solo iai practice should be for me and how I will use the naginata based on what I know. This will begin with revisiting Shinto-ryu naginata and then practicing it in a manner that is compatible with my current understanding of budo. It is easy to criticize other arts or move on from one art to the next, but it is more interesting to explore different approaches and attempt to purify them around the most profound understanding one has. Rinse and repeat: maybe a tradition is then more alive.
Should one do this at all? Only Marishiten will know:
on ken ran un sowaka
on marishiyei sowaka
marishitenson on mari mari marishi sowaka
on a bi ra un ken
I do know for certain there are enough people practicing Shinto-ryu without examining the kata of the tradition critically. One person being critical will not change that. I do know that in the past, there were different dojo of Katori Shinto-ryu and that Katori was famous for long weapons (naginata, spear) while Kashima was considered the place to learn sword (tachi, odachi). Maybe a long time ago Kashima and Katori were not as different as they are today. The full name of Jikishinkage-ryu is Kashima-shinden Jiki Shinkage-ryu -- the divine tradition of Kashima. I think exploring these ideas may be quite interesting and maintain this line of inquiry as part of my personal practice.
Of course, if you practice kenjutsu, you will have your own opinions. Did you sign a pledge that prohibits you from sparring outsiders? Have you reached a level where you are now permitted to test your skills? Why not? What do you have to fear? Why are you not already walking this path? Is your art truly alive? Why are you doing what you do?
These are all questions I have wrestled with and encourage you to consider as well.