Student Writing

At Iaido Tanshinjuku, it is important for students to write about Iaido as they internalize their learning. This piece is about an essential aspect in Iaido, chiburi.  Please click on the word to read more.  “chiburi


In the study of Iaido, and many things, it is important to copy what the teacher is modeling. Doing exactly what the teacher is doing, or the model student is showing, is the way we learn the proper technique. Matching our bodies to the exact position that is being shown allows us to learn the ultimate refinement of the technique, and tests our self-control.  We must learn the form before we can transcend it.

It is easy to watch a technique or a movement and think, “Oh, I know what he is doing,” and then do something completely different that we think is the same. Instead, try to make your thumb like the teacher’s thumb, try to make the arc of the sword the same arc as the teacher’s arc, match your teacher, copy exactly.

I remember one day training in the dojo and Sensei had gathered a few of the senior students around him as he watched my sempai and I train. He had scolded the group about their lack of progress in the art and told them they had plateaued. Silence settled as they reflected on their development. He then said, “Do you see how Steve uses his saya? He learned that by watching.”

It is difficult to see all the movements of our teachers. There is so much to learn, but if we don’t learn everything we can from our teachers, how can we expect to preserve the teachings? The art will pass from us, and the old teachings will become lost. We must preserve before we can rip it apart, separate it, and reconfigure, “Shuhari”. We must train our minds to see what is there and train to copy the form to preserve it. We are the living legacy of our teachers and in order to honor them we must preserve that which they have taught.  Keep training!

Speaking the Language

One of the biggest obstacles to learning anything is its language.  No matter what it is, each career, occupation, skill, family, organization, country, region, etc. has its own language.  For a learner, the vocabulary specific to the discipline must be acquired in order to think about the different aspects of that discipline.  In basic Mathematics, sum, product, quotient, and factor are some of these content specific words.  With each level of understanding, sometimes new vocabulary accompanies that level, as in literature we first learn a figure of speech before refining further between a simile and a metaphor.  Using the vocabulary of a discipline provides the vehicle for communication and transmission of the skills.

Attached here is a basic set of words used commonly at Iaido Tanshinjuku, and in Iaido practice.  Keep Training!

Iaido Tanshinjuku glossary

To Be A Blackbelt

The world is our teacher.  In every moment of every day there are lessons to be learned.  Some lessons are momentous, and others are subtle.  Some people believe that a black belt is an accomplishment, which it is, but it is just the “first step” along the path.

When we are born, it takes us a long time to learn how to walk.  We first learn to lift our heads, then roll over, then crawl, then cruise, then we take our first steps without the assistance of others, but as adults we forget how much work it takes to do these things because we walk so much and without much effort.  We take walking for granted, and think learning should be instantaneous, after all, there is instant coffee, but learning is not instant.  Learning happens in steps and stages.  Some steps are higher, some stages are longer.

I suppose the “first step” can be a difficult concept for people to grasp when it takes years to achieve a black belt, and there are many steps along the way to its acquisition.  I adopt my teacher’s perspective that a black belt means that the person who wears one knows how to learn.  There is an echo in the following: “First you have to teach your sword, then it teaches you.”

Keep training, keep learning, and listen to your teacher!



Learning keeps us young and flexible.  Even as our bodies begin to stiffen from the demands of living, we work and train to maintain our flexibility.  The same need applies to our minds.  New skills, new techniques, and new perspectives all stretch our minds.

Continue to look at skills and patterns of thought to determine where mental stretching will benefit you.  Keep training!

Focus in Training

Training is a gift. Every moment in the dojo is an opportunity to grow. Sometimes the lessons go beyond technique and enter the realm of history or social construction, but every moment has the capacity to stretch our minds and bodies.

I remember a time when I was in the dojo training and I had an epiphany about the whole of human knowledge. It was taught by a grain of sand I encountered on the mat.  As I rolled the fragment between my thumb and forefinger, squeezing and feeling, I thought about how small my knowledge was, then how finite the knowledge of the entire human race, but today, I reflect anew.

In every moment there are many grains of knowledge, and if we accumulate them, and synthesize them through the pressure of our teachers, and the long of our training, we form the solid rocks of our foundation. There is no substitute for training under a good teacher, but we must steal the grains of knowledge and make them our own. Keep training!

The Role of Sempai

People are very interested in things that are exotic or new. In a study about discrimination, babies will look at people of a different ethnicity than the ethnicity of the babies’ primary care givers longer than people of the same ethnicity. There is something attractive about the new and different.

When new people come to the dojo, they are very curious about training and Iaido. It is important for senior students, sempai, to help the new people become comfortable and at ease. Any rules or safety protocols should be taught by the sempai to the new students to help the new students know what to do and what not to do. If the sempai does not, the sensei will think the sempai doesn’t know, and thinks the student is not ready to become a role model.

We must constantly train to make sure we are creating harmony. That is the way. Keep training.

One Piece of Rice Paper

Instant gratification permeates all aspects of our culture, but that is not the way of the dojo and training. When we are given time to train on our worst technique, that’s what we should do. It is singular focus. Last week I posed this approach to my students and I received varying responses. One learner ran through Inyoshintai, and then followed with Ryuto, another worked on Shohato, one worked on three techniques repeating them 1, 2, 3 again and again, and another learner still ran through several techniques. Only one managed to follow instruction. Technique is singular, and to work on one technique for the time given follows the wisdom: “I do not fear the man who has practiced 10,000 techniques, but the man who has practiced one technique 10,000 times.” Keep training!

Using the Arc

A Japanese sword is designed to slice. An ax is designed to chop. The mass and balance of a sword is designed to slice at the tip, instead of chopping near the hands. Since this is the case, a sword’s tip should move along the greatest arc from a center point. By applying the principles of math, the longer the radius of a circle, the longer the arc. If the sword takes the same amount of time to travel a greater distance, greater radius=greater circumference, then the sword is moving faster with the greater distance.

A swordsman contributes his mass to the mass of the sword to increase the penetration of the cut. The strongest part of a human’s body is the hips and center, which means if we integrate our center into the cut, we are able have greater penetration and a larger radius. By cutting from our centers we employ both of these principles to create a more powerful cut. Keep training!

Iaito Fatigue and Failure

Iaido, as a path, always teaches its practitioners.  There is always something new.  A true student will go beyond the moment and unpack all its meaning.  Some moments are small and some are momentous, yet each is equally important.  Most of us don’t listen to the lessons in every moment and require more dramatic events to make us stop and think.  One such event happened while training when one of the student’s iaito broke.  The article below contains his reflections and inspired learning as a result of the event.  Keep training, and listen to and soak in what your teacher is trying to tell you.