Thursday, January 12, 2012

Art of the Japanese Sword

If you have even the slightest interest in the Katana then this link is for you.
This video is beautifully presented and the film quality is very good. If your broad band speed is high then the streaming option will work.
I chose to purchase the video. It is a 1 Gig download, but after that it is yours.

The Japanese sword … prized as much for its exceptional beauty as for it’s deadly cutting ability. It has endured for a thousand years as the pinnacle of Japanese culture. Now you can enter a world rarely seen by outsiders. To experience the true story of the Art of the Samurai Sword. A story told in the swordsmiths own words that separate the myth from the fact. Follow the swordsmiths dream of creating a masterpiece. From the quest to making an ancient steel to forging a blade equal to those of the Kamakura, a medieval period that produced the greatest swords in history. For the martial artist the Japanese sword is a precise cutting weapon and symbol of the Samurai. For the collector, it is an art form whose beauty is derived from its deadly function to cut. As our story of the Japanese sword unfolds, we bring together all the artists and craftsmen whose skills turn it into both a modern work of art and a window into the past. Produced in association with Paul Martin, a leading Japanese sword expert and filmed throughout Japan with the very best swordsmiths and craftsmen who are the absolute masters of their art … the art of the Japanese sword. Packed with never before seen footage, filmmmaker Jon Braeley was given unrestricted access to film inside the forges, workshops and Shinto shrines and museums. Featuring Japan’s top swordsmiths: Kawachi Kunihira, Matsuda Tsuguyasu and Manabe Sumihira and many more.

It is a fascinating journey that starts with swordsmith Manabe who makes his own steel from an ancient recipe dating back to the 13th century. In this unusually detailed look into the making of the Japanese sword, this documentary “lifts the lid” and exposes dramatic footage of the forging methods, the folding, the clay coating and more. Going beyond films before it, Art of the Japanese Sword showcases the polishers, scabbard and metal fitting makers as well the handle wrapping … the most comprehensive movie ever made on the Japanese sword.

Often referred to as the Samurai sword, we enter the Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu – the oldest martial arts dojo in Japan, where traditional sword fighting techniques of the Samurai are still taught. The schools instructor and top martial arts master and sword expert is Otake Risuke who grants a very rare interview to talk about this most ancient symbol of Japanese culture.

Art of the Japanese Sword is a truly unique exploration of one of the worlds most beautiful yet deadly cutting edge weapon. The following is a small sample of the chapters or scenes:

Making the Steel: Follow swordsmith Manabe Sumihira as he makes his own steel from an ancient recipe.
Forging the Steel: One of Japan’s top swordsmith’s, Kawachi Kunihira at work folding and forging the steel.
Martial Arts: Enter the Katori Shinto Ryu, Japan’s oldest traditional school of classic sword fighting, Koryu Bujutsu.
Forging the Blade: Swordsmith Matsuda Tsuguyasu shapes and tempers the blank (sunobe) blade.
Shinto and the Sword: The spiritual practice of Shinto has a long deep connection to the Japanese Sword.
Polishing: Follow polishers Matsumura Sotaro and Morii Tetsutaro as they slowly bring the beauty of the blade alive.
Handle Making: Watch a master craftman at work as Iiyama Kensen wraps the handle in rayskin and silk-cord.

Run Time::
85 minutes
Plays worldwide
English Narration and subtitles
Widescreen 5.1 Surround sound

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Multitasking Samurai.

Our life in this modern world requires that we are on the go and connected. Your boss expects you to have your mobile phone with you even after hours and on weekends. People expect instant responses to e-mails and I have clients calling at all times of the day and night expecting that I drop everything to look after them even at the expense of my wife and kids.

Image : -
Multitasking has become the buzzword and unfortunately is misunderstood. The fact of the matter is our brains, amazing creations that they are, are really poorly equipped to focus on more than one task at a time, especially if the tasks are complicated. Sure, you will be able to do many tasks in a day, but the reality is if you try to do them all together your will be inefficient and probably make mistakes where if you complete a task, before moving onto the next task you will get more done and make far less mistakes. You can try this simple experiment to see how poorly equipped we are at multitasking:
Make two cups of coffee and stir them both at the same time, one with the left hand in a clockwise direction and one with the right hand in an anti-clockwise direction.

The task is by no means complicated, you have probably made a few thousand cups of coffee/tea in your lifetime, but the simple complication of stirring in different directions adds a dimension which requires considerable mental effort. Imagine how much more effort is required to carry out two unfamiliar task of greater complexity.

In this simple example you will really lose no time by stirring one, completing the task, before stirring the second.

The Samurai had already figured this out centuries ago and have mastered the art of clearing the mind - Mune Muso. In this state of 'no mind' nothing distracted him from the task at hand. It does not matter if that task is making tea or cutting down an enemy the Samurai's focus was complete on a single task. This is definitely the case with competition. You do not enter a boxing ring while worrying about the mortgage or your marketing budget, You do not step up to the line in the All Japan Karate Championships while thinking about which e-mails you need to answer and it is an absolute given that no one in the mens 4x100m hurdles at the olympics will have a mobile phone with them at the starting line.

Yet strangely enough it has become accepted in the business world that while you are working, you will accept multiple calls and answer your email. This does not make any sense at all unless you are a switchboard operator who's job it is to answer calls.

If you want to get the most out of your dojo sessions then make sure you are not multitasking, and clear your mind. If you have a bunch of things rushing through your mind consider making a to-do list, for after the session. This way you have let your mind know that you will not forget a task and it is easier to put the clutter out of your mind.

You can do the same in business. Start your day with a to-do list or with a to-do list created at the end of business the previous day. Then work according to the list and complete a task before moving on to the next task. Consider leaving your mobile phone, and e-mail turned off for the first part of the day, or at least until you have completed critical tasks on your to-do list. I believe you will definitely see an increase in productivity and experience a less stressful day.

I would love to hear what you think.

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The image I used in this post is by The Ghost of a Flea and comes from flickr. It is used with permission. If you get a chance, visit his flickr photostream here.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

It just drips with irony

At the beginning of the month I wrote a piece entitled Is it a problem to be big and strong?
Well just after that piece was published I was flattened by a diminutive creature. I was taken down by a flu virus.

I was feeling well and attended our seniors Kenjutsu class on the saturday morning at seven o'clock. While having coffee after the class at nine o'clock in the morning I first started feeling a bit poorly, and on the way home I was hit by an incredible weariness.

The weekend disappeared in a blur as I spent the entire weekend sleeping and on Monday morning my GP confirmed it was flu and prescribed drugs. He wanted to give me a note to book me off for the week, but since I work for myself, my boss was already well aware of my condition and would also be the first to know when I was feeling better.

Now, three weeks later I am just starting to get back up to date with all my work. It is incredible how much of an impact a little virus can have on your life.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Is it a problem to be big and strong?

Is it a problem to be big and strong? Is it a disadvantage to be small? Or does size really not matter. 
A while back I was chatting to some of the folk who do kenjutsu with me and the one young lady voiced some concern about her petite form. This reminded me of a passge written by Musashi in the Book of Five Rings.

Small people must be completely familiar with the spirit of large people, and large people must be familiar with the spirit of small people. Whatever your size, do not be misled by the reactions of your own body. With your spirit open and unconstricted, look at things from a high point of view.

Now I am certainly large by Japanese standards, and I use the fact that I have bulk and strength. Because I have been able to get away with using strength I have not learned the more harmonious side of Aikido. Truth be told I have not been very successful with sticky palms and the more sensitive side of any martial arts. So I realise a need to become familiar with the spirit of small people.
Then a friend of mine posted a link to a Youtube video on Facebook. The video showed Sensei Corky Quakenbush of Kakushi Toride Aikido Dojo working on developing the use of Ki in aikido techniques. 

I found Sensei Corky’s manner very relaxed and easy to listen to. The effect was magical and re-awakened a deep desire to investigate Ki.

Please watch these videos and let me know what you think.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

We no longer need a Dojo.

In the post Learning outside the dojo I said that with the information being available from so many sources you are able to learn outside the dojo. This begs the question do you still need to attend a dojo at all?

I have had the good fortune to visit several martial arts training venues in and around my home town over the last 15 years. Some have had a very traditional feel, complete with kamisa in the training area, sprung wooden floors and Japanese calligraphy on the walls to very informal, which are simply a hired scout hall with chairs piled high around the walls where you have to drag the mats out from under the stage when practicing throws or falls. I have even been told of a particular Ninjutsu school nearby where on visiting, the class consisted of watching a video and then practicing what they saw on the video. The students seemed satisfied with the result so is there anything wrong in doing things this way? So given the wide range of venues which are all considered dojo's do you really need to visit one in order to train effectively?

Well in my opinion YES! The dojo, irrespective of its fittings and furnishings is the primary place of instruction. The dojo environment, is where the student must be taught the basics of respect and discipline. It is also in the dojo environment that the instructor/sensei can impart* knowledge to the student. Sure, I am all for self study and believe I am sufficiently proficient in a variety of styles and techniques to learn from videos and books BUT it is in the confines of the dojo that these techniques move out of the theoretical into the functional realm. It is only under the supervision of an instructor that some techniques can be safely practiced in order to become part of the ready arsenal of the samurai today.

Take a very simple punch. This technique is found everywhere, from the pre-school play ground to the local pub. So everyone knows how to punch right... right? Wrong! clenching a fist and throwing it at someone else does not constitute a punch. Correctly rolling your fist will ensure you do not break fingers or knuckles when you make contact. Then all the aspects of keeping the muscles relaxed until the moment of impact. Rotating the fist and ensuring you strike with the first two knuckles and the fist horizontal, punching from the heal through the hip allows you to generate board breaking power. Do not tense the shoulders... I have just touched the surface of a basic Karate punch. What about the vertical fist used for the basic wushu punch... is this poor technique?

The dojo creates the required environment for this learning to take place. While training, your senior students and instructors can keep an eye on what is happening and correct a technique so that you practice a good technique rather than reinforcing bad technique.

But what happens if there just is not a suitable dojo where you stay? Ah, here is a real problem. One I am struggling with as I make plans to move to a new country. I would love to hear your comments and then I'll use these comments along with my thoughts on the issue to draft a post on Samurai Today. I look forward to hearing from you.

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*impart... This is a topic for another post, and I will visit it again later. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Learning outside the dojo

The Samurai never stopped learning. It did not matter whether he was improving his sword technique or practicing his calligraphy or spending time at the temple. He was always seeking more knowledge. Today there is so much information available that the modern martial artist has no excuse for not continually gaining knowledge. bulk of my knowledge of martial arts has been build up over many hours in the dojo. All the while picking up more bruises and bumps, striking makiwara or rehearsing kata. This is the way it must be. Or is it?
As an engineer I have spent the eleven years after my graduation continually learning about engineering, but not always in the class room context. Some has been research, some by working with other engineers, some by making lots of mistakes; bumping my head repeatedly and some from various publications and forums dedicated to engineering. I have even learned some engineering from watching discovery channel. Why should my martial arts be any different?

Musashi wrote in Go Rin No Sho (The Book of Five Rings): "It is said the warrior's is the twofold Way of pen and sword, and he should have a taste for both Ways. Even if a man has no natural ability he can be a warrior by sticking assiduously to both divisions of the Way."

This can be interpreted as seeking knowledge not only in the sword, but in the book is the way of the warrior. Today we have vast resources at our disposal. We have vast libraries with many books on martial arts and history. You are reading this thanks to the Internet which also has many pages which have varying degrees of authority and are a source of learning. A google search for "Kenjutsu" came up with 292 000 pages while "Samurai" has more than 37 million. The information is available.
Here however you do need to be careful. Do not blindly believe anything and everything you find when searching the Internet. That is so important I am going to say it again.
 Do not blindly believe anything and everything you find when searching the Internet.
Most of the content is not in any way audited or moderated so it is very possible that it is of little value. But even identifying what is obviously false is a form of learning.

So apart from what my sensei teaches in class, what other sources of instruction do I use?
I'm very glad you asked. First and foremost, I read quite a bit. Many of the books I have I read many times over. I also enjoy watching films. Some old classics like Seven Samurai, Yojimbo and Sanjuro have interesting lessons on character and history and the way of the Samurai. Yes Kurosawa san, the director of the films I have just mentioned was born into a samurai family. I also watch and re-watch some of the instructional videos in my collection. Video's like 'Crimson Steel' by Obata Toshishiro and Donald J Angier's 'Kenjitsu' series are full of great value. Lastly I use the Internet.

I find that reading a description of a technique in a book to be the most difficult way to learn, and this only really works when I have someone to train with me so we can try and put the words into action together. Obviously this will hold true for any written word, since it is very difficult to describe every movement and attitude of the body in the written word. The next is from videos. Here too there are varying degrees of benefit. I have seen some video's with very poor production quality; The artist stepping out of shot to reposition camera, and technical quality; The artists are not very skilled in the performance of the particular techniques. These can still be beneficial in that even seeing what someone does incorrectly may be key on perfecting the technique or helping me to better explain something to a student. It is also realistic to believe that even if a martial artists is particularly skilled at martial arts he may not present that well on camera. If you are able to look past this and still find value in a piece of video you have a great source of additional and differing technique.

Now comes a warning. Do not let what you learn outside the dojo distract from what your instructor or sensei is teaching. It is very disrespectful to your sensei and the other students to interject in a class with; "but Sensei... James Williams does it like this in his video." or "Don Angier said this or that." The correct response should you do this is to go outside and cut your belly - Harra Kiri! In the dojo you follow what your instructor does without any disrespect. If you would like to offer a different point of view or highlight a different insight then make very sure you have permission from your instructor before you raise it in the class context. It is probably best to discuss this in an informal setting before you bring it up during a class.

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If you feel that someone you know may be interested in this article then please e-mail it to them using the small envelope below this post (Next to the comment link)
If you would like to get your own copies of the videos I spoke about in this post. I really recommend them. You can get them by clicking the links below. 

Monday, May 18, 2009

James Clavell's Shogun TV Miniseries

There is a special on 'TV series' and James Clavell's Shogun DVD boxed sets are available for £16.98. This is less than half price. Not bad for nine hours of mini-series and one hour of special features. I bought this set a couple of years back and have watched it at least twice. It truly is a spectacle.
The complete collection of Shogun tells the story of John Blackthorne (Chamberlain), an English navigator who finds himself shipwrecked off the coast of Japan. Once rescued, Blackthorne becomes an eyewitness to a deadly struggle involving Toranaga, a feuding Japanese warlord intent on becoming Shogun - the supreme military dictator. Blackthorne is, despite his better judgement, irresistibly drawn into the turmoil and finds himself vying to become the first ever ‘Gai-Jin’ (foreigner) to be made a Samurai warrior.
You can get the Book Shogun for £5.84... or maybe even £1.05 if you are happy with a second hand copy. This is a truly great book. Here are some of the reviews:
'My bet for the most satisfyingly popular novel of the year . . . It has power, it has violence, subtlety and lots, lots more . . . Clavell never puts a foot wrong . . . Get it, read it, you'll enjoy it mightily' (Daily Mirror )

'SHOGUN is a huge exotic, blood-stained canvas of sixteenth century but still medieval Japan, rival warlords and proselytising Jesuits, geishas, seppuku, samurai with the death-with and a shipwrecked Elizabethan' (Guardian )

'Mr Clavell tells his story brilliantly' (The Times )

'One of the great page turners of all time' ( Good Book Guide )

'I can’t remember when a novel has seized my mind like this one. It’s irresistable, maybe unforgettable. Clavell ... creates a world so enveloping you forget who and where you are' (New York Times ) 

You might even consider getting both the DVD miniseries and the Book for £22.82, you will find the link marked "Frequently Bought Together" if you click on the book link.

I'm not sure how long these prices will hold, so if you come back to this page and the prices I have quoted in the text and the prices you see in the links are not the same, accept that you missed out.

The Book of Five Rings

It is said the warrior's is the twofold Way of pen and sword, and he should have a taste for both Ways. Even if a man has no natural ability he can be a warrior by sticking assiduously to both divisions of the Way. - Shinmen Musashi No Kami Fujiwara No Geshin