« Archives in July, 2013

Gradings, seminars and unexpected emotion.

This weekend Chris and I went to the Stoke seminar and passed our Shodan.

All in all it was a superb weekend that was totally different to my expectations. Meeting and being trained by O’Sullivan Sensei and Howell Sensei was an amazing experience and gives you some very fundamental understandings of some very small concepts that have big implications. I wish I could remember it all but there was so much imparted to us in such a short space of time that I couldn’t possibly remember everything.


One of the main points I’ll take away is about some of the fundamental aspects of kirikaiesh. Many of us will already know that kirikaiesh is meant to encapsulate pretty much everything to do with kendo, it is not just a warm up exercise but what I didn’t appreciate before was the additional aspects around what you are doing as motodachi. We were told as an exercise, to appreciate that the blocking performed by motodachi is not just about blocking. The point of the exercise is to use this as an opportunity to experience what a genuine block is like and where your counter attack would come from. It comes from the centre. It is hammered into us that we should control the centre and part of creating an opportunity is breaking your opponents centre. So why as motodachi would you not hold centre while blocking?
Holding the centre means that you are still in your kamae, giving kakarite a realistic view of what an opponent would do when you attempt to cut them. As kakarite does perform their cuts, using tenuchi, motodachi can control how much the shinai hits their men. This helps motodachi to understand what receiving cuts would be like is a more realistic fashion. You receive a sayomen cut and because of your shinai position, could counter if you block properly.
So, don’t block fully as this give an unrealistic idea to kakarite as to when to strike and can end up with them hitting the shinai and not actually being close enough to hit men. Not blocking at all gives kakarite a good idea of correct men cuts, but gives nothing to motodachi and if kakarite hits hard, then motodachi has the tendency to return to blocking.
The central, half block gives something to both. I’m not sure how much you should use this and how much it would be recognised by most kendoka but it was an interesting point. It all linked in with what was being taught about maintaining the centre, regardless of which kamae you are in, blocking, striking and body position. Your left hand stays in the centre.

I will also take away the thought that I must relax. At one point O’Sulivan sensei grabbed be by the upper arms, shaking them shouting ‘Relax Beaumont San’. Every sensei I go near tells me this and I think it’s the part I will concentrate on more from now on.

In addition to all this I take away the amazing sense of camaraderie I began to feel over the weekend, not just with my dojo mate but with everyone, student and sensei alike. The ones going for ikkyu who were a hotbed of nervousness. The ones going for sandan that took on a kind of detached seriousness that disappeared right after they had passed. The guy who finally passes his shodan after 7 previous attempts. The student who just seemed to have trouble with all things kata and then did it flawlessly during the grading.
Interesting conversations with the sensei during and after training. The Russian guy (who’s name i forget) who I’ve seen at both of my external gradings now and have done kata with at both.
The list of things like this go on and on.

It’s interesting to reflect on the fact that there are only 900 paying kendo practitioners in the country, only 300 more than there are members of parliament and as such, this feeling of camaraderie is not unusual. We will mix with the same bunch of people at pretty much every event we go to. Mumeshi this year had say 250-300 attendees. That’s a third.
The stoke seminar had about 40 attendees, that’s about 4%. We’re a very small association and the thing I find particularly interesting is that it’s bound together by people. There’s nothing tangible to the BKA really. A website and a lot of little blue books.

I went into the weekend feeling pretty confident and by the time I got to the grading, my confidence was shot. I felt my kirikaiesh was sloppy on the first part so I tried to tighten it up on the second. I’ve done it many times before, much better. My first bout of jigeko was okay. I think I got one decent men cut in. Receiving kirikaiesh I tried to do what Howell sensei had said about the central blocking and it worked pretty well. My second jigeko was again with my Russian friend was okay and I thought it was going badly. I kept being aware of the panel and pushed on. Then, I landed, what I thought was a pretty good kote, men and they called yame.
I don’t know what it is, but I swear I expend more energy in that few minutes than I do doing an entire weekends training.

The results get posted, only one number is missing and he’s gone in a flash. We watch some of the others going for nidan and sandan but we go off for some last minute kata practice. My Russian friend comes to practice with me and we go through all if them, with me messing them up all the way.

Back into the main hall we watch all only the sandan graders which isn’t many and then it’s done. The numbers are posted for all 4 groups and there isn’t many missing.

After the fairly long first part of the grading, the kata sections are over in a flash. The ikkyu graders line up and are done in a flash. All good, no one messes up and no one gets asked to do it again. Then we’re up. I’m opposite my Russian friend, I’m motodachi we’re done in a flash and I hear O’Sullivan sensei say ‘Very nice’ and its finished.

Watching the nidan graders they all do fine. One of the ikkyu graders is sat on the floor next to me with blood coming out of his foot but he wajts to watch everything. Then the sandan graders are on. There’s only 5 of them and they are nervous as hell, probably not helped by the fact that were all watching them now. There a couple of mess ups from one pair but try go again and it’s okay.
Turning round I see the words ‘All Pass’ on the ikkyu sheet. Then in seconds the same is posted on the shodan sheet, swiftly followed by the next 2 sheets.

We’re all fine then, all of us who got to kata passed. This mass sense if relief permeates the room. The only disappointments are the few that didn’t pass, even then O’Sullivan offers feedback as to why. I remember from our ikkyu grading that he said, ‘Don’t worry about it. If you don’t pass, it doesn’t mean your not good enough, it just means you’re not ready.’ He totally put us all at ease and I remember what he has said at both gradings. ‘We’re not here to look for reasons to fail you. We want to hand out a 100% pass rate.’

Now after this little roller coaster ride was over, we’d passed, we’d taken our pictures, we’d packed up and at that point all I wanted to do was to go home. Then as we stopped for some dinner on our way home it finally hit me what I’d done that weekend.
For Japanese students, shodan is not a massive thing. I’ve heard it said that in Japan, if you do kendo, you will most likely be Sandan by the time you leave high school. Makes it seem a little insignificant but for members of my dojo that started less than 2 years ago, it’s a big deal. I was stood in a motorway service station and suddenly felt quite emotional about whole affair. I’d been so preoccupied with the thought of grading that I had not really fully thought about what I was about to put myself through. Now I’m passed I know it was pretty big. I feel proud of myself for actually sticking at something for long enough to pass something like this.

I think it’s a great thing for our club that from nothing, we’re climbing the ladder as students. We are totally a product of Meirinkan, our sensei’s dedication and good training regime.
There are now 3 regular shodans training and another 3 ikkyus with many others not far behind. We’re building our core in the club and it shows every night of training.

So what now?

For myself I’m going to go back to basics. Concentrate on what I know already, refine it and try to relax. I’ve managed to relax during suburi but I still notice my shoulders tensing while doing strikes in kata.
I’ve got a years worth of work and refinement of practice ahead of me till I can think about taking my nidan. The thing is though I want to make sure I’m not concentrating on that as a goal.

There is no goal, only the way.



Sci-Fi and the Illusion of Reality.


This a piece that I wrote some time ago after a probably familiar chain of thought events. I imagine many of you will be able to relate to this turn of events. I never really finished it before and have only now dusted it off with new and interesting insights.

Before proceeding, I should warn you that this contains spoilers for Inception, The Matrix Trilogy, A Scanner Darkly and possibly life itself.

As far as I’ve been able to see over my many years of watching pretty much every bit of sci-fi to grace cinema and TV, it seems to fall into two distinct categories. Space opera with the likes of Star Trek, Star Wars, 2001 and the thinly veiler political statement organised in the form of a piece that attempts to make you question the nature of your reality in it’s many forms.

Before going on holiday to Rhodes a couple of years back, I bought a book. I bought it in PoundLand so it was only £1. The book in question was ‘Matrix Warrior: Being The One – By Jake Horsley.’ Hardback too. It’s a fantastic piece of overthinking in itself and I strongly recommend it to anyone reading. In this book, Jake hypothesises that not only is The Matrix, hinting to the truth that reality is a dream world and that this is a concept that has permeated throughout most sci-fi and philosophical writing for a long time.

After reading over the course of my holiday and a little after I got back, I had the urge to go back and watch all the Matrix movies, which is what any good bit of overthink should do. Redirect you to the source.

I watched them with a different frame of mind. When I first saw the Matrix, I had seen none of the hype or anything about it. No idea how I managed that, but it happened. I was blown away by it. I think I must have subsequently watched it a good 30-40 times after that.

After watching these films again and reading the book, I was spurred on to think more and more about what other sci-fi and films give this idea.

I recently read a Scanner Darkly. The questions of reality within are massive. Not only does the protagonist, effectively split into 2 personalities, he questions which one is actually real and neither seem to be aware of each other towards the end. Philip K Dick really had a thing for questioning the nature of reality. The arguments for this permeates all his books in different ways and many other sci-fi books.

Then I saw Inception.

Oh crap, not another Inception article analysing it. That’s not what I want to do here. What I’m trying to show is that pretty much every piece of popular sci-fi written for the last 50-60 years is all saying the same thing.

Reality is an illusion. Or is it?

In the Martix, there is a key conversation between Neo and The Architect. Within this conversation we discover that the best way to make all humans within the Matrix accept the program was to give them a choice. Obviously the choice given to the subject is going to be one with outcomes that the program has already anticipated thus the choice is in fact a fallacy. This is obviously a bit of social commentary describing the illusion of choice that we have within our everyday lives. We think we have a choice, but in fact the choices we have are simply the selection of two or more already understood paths. Yet again, very few people actually tread a completely unknown path.

If we examine what is discussed in this conversation, effectively there is an anomaly in the Matrix program, namely Neo, one that is allowed to run it’s course, then reintegrated back into the original program and then restarted, thus improving the program. From what we find out about the program, keeping it perfect without the anomaly, seems to be impossible or The Architect would fix it. The Anomaly is then given the choice to save a few humans to keep the outside population going or to go back to the Matrix and save the woman he loves. Before Neo, all chose the former, meaning that Zion is destroyed, a handful of people survive, The Matrix is rebooted and the cycle starts again. According the The Architect this is the 6th version.

Neo on the other hand loves Trinity so much that he can’t stand to let her die so he goes to save her, thus as The Architect sees it, dooming all of humanity and probably the machine world to. Without the anomaly being reintegrated, then the Martix is doomed to be corrupted. The choice Neo is given is a horrible choice to have to make.

Although Neo makes what is seen as the selfish choice, he actually rejects both sides of the choices and makes up his own mind what to do in the end.

In The Martix, choice is seen as the power

In The Matrix, Morpheos calls that feeling that Thomas Anderson has that there is something wrong with the world, ‘A splinter in your mind, driving you mad.’ Isn’t that what an idea is? A splinter in your mind? If you don’t follow the idea it will drive you mad. As a writer I know this feeling all to well. You have to follow the idea or it stays, circulating and growing. They say there is a fine line between genius and madness and this is why. Not only can not pursuing an idea drive you mad, a genuinely new idea will seem like madness and pursuing it will seem like madness to the general populace.

Thus are not ideas and choice one and the same thing. An idea, a proper idea, is choosing not to choose an established path.

In Inception, the idea is the powerful thing.

There have been a ton of articles written about what Inception is. Is it a film about film making, is it attempting to incept us as an audience and if so what with?

The idea that is implanted first is that the world in not real. Is that what Inception is attempting to do? Plant that idea? Maybe, but that’s too obvious. You discount it because you can always trace the source of the idea, so what it’s really trying to say is that the ideas them selves are an illusion.

No one, apart from a very few individuals, actually have an original idea, ever. This article is not original. It was born from a bunch of other articles and opinions that all melded together in my mind to form an interesting hypothesis.

Most inventions around today are not original ideas. They are simply reworks of something that came before. A modern hammer is simply a better version of ones that were made before, that is a better version of a rock on a stick, which is better than just a rock in your hand. It’s evolution plain and simple. Knowledge is how we evolve now, not through physical adaptation.

When it comes to wanting or needing something, you would not want said item unless you had seen someone else with it in the first place. You cannot desire something that you are unaware of. For example, I saw an iPhone, I like it, my friend has one, my phone is crap by comparison, I want one.

Take yourself back 30 years. There are no mobile phones. If I want to call someone I pick up my house phone. I don’t want to have a iPhone because they don’t exist.

Where did the idea for a mobile phone come from? Who knows where it originates, but if you want an early example of the idea of one, how about a Star Trek communicator. It’s basically a small, handheld radio. Okay, portable 2way radios existed then and had for some time, but the idea of a small, pocket sized device for communication was not available. Was it a pure idea? Probably not.

If technological history has taught us anything it’s that things get more powerful and smaller for the same function over time. Imagining that a two-way portable radio would become pocket sized in 200 years is not far-fetched at all. Okay, I can’t talk to an orbiting ship with my cell phone, but a satellite phone could. It’s about the size of a house brick. No reason not to think that it will get much smaller in the next 100 years.

Ideas are not original, they are formed from previous experience and anaylsis of other facts.

This is the kind of thinking that is very much overthought in Jake’s book. Reason is a function of the illusion, and as such also completely unreal. Only unpredictability is true creativity and ideas. Once you have an idea and think about it, it is already not a true idea. In the act of spontaneity, a true idea is formed and only because it was done without thinking. And this is the nature of mushin in Kendo. Attacking without thought and preconcideration is creativity in its simplistic form. (Ha. I knew I’d kendo in here somehow)

In A Scanner Darkly, a fascinating chain of mental events is played out. Bob Arctor works as a narcotics agent. While undercover, he is himself, without disguise except his personality. When conversing with other agents, he wears a suit to disguise who he really is in order to keep anonymity. In order to do his he is effectively creating two personalities for himself in order to allow himself to be undercover and find the main dealers of Substance D. Neither of these two personalities in necessarily his true self. In taking D, he splits the two hemispheres of his brain and as such the two personalities he has purposefully created, begin to split apart. As Agent Fred, he refers to himself as a different person so often that eventually, Agent Fred just sees Bob Arctor, not himself. The other question is, who is the true personality? At the beginning, it’s the Agent Fred version of Bob, towards the end, it becomes much harder to tell.

At the end, another personality entirely. He is no longer Agent Fred as he doesn’t have his suit on and the Bob Arctor he has been for some time was just his undercover version of himself, also false.

By the end of the book, Bob / Fred has no personality anymore. Those two personalities were inventions or corruptions of himself. He is then at the end undercover again, with a new name and another false personality. His personality and mind are a complete illusion.

The Matrix is trying to tell you that choice is an illusion.

Inception is trying to tell you that ideas are an illusion.

A Scanner Darkly is trying to say that personality and mind are an illusion.

Most religion and spirituality is trying to tell you that your body is an illusion.

So what’s left?

I think, therefore I am?

So here I am back at the beginning.

The idea to write this article was not a true idea it was put there by a combination of outside forces that compelled me to do so. The combination of these outside influences became a ‘splinter in my mind’ that I had to remove. The only way to do that was to write this article.

I did not have a choice, I did not form the pure idea, but I had to do it, and thus what I think of as my personality and mind, is also completely illusionary.