Haru Matsuri 2007

I had a great time at the 2007 Haru Matsuri at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre. I've been attending Tong-sensei's Friday night classes for about a month now, and it's been wonderful working with someone who actually knows how the forms are SUPPOSED to work, and can at least attempt to correct the spectacularly bad habits I've picked up over ten years of teacherless practice.

And on Saturday, those of us in that Friday class, as well as a variety of other folks from the area who also practice Katori Shinto Ryu, got together up at the JCCC and practiced together in full view of thousands of adoring spectators.

Maybe not "thousands".

Maybe not "adoring".

Not even, to tell the truth "in full view". Half the dojo space was sort of around the corner and out of the way.

But it was still tons of fun. And very educational. You really learn when you practice with someone who's studied with others. Everything is different -- timing, distance, speed. All the little things, all the things that add up to complete unfamiliarity. You have to pay attention.

It's one of the things that make paired kata practice so much more sophisticated than it first appears. The need to constantly adjust and respond to your partner's actions forces you into a sharp alertness and drives home those basic lessons again and again and again

Ma-ai. Correct distance. Just trying to maintain your correct distance from someone who's leaping and twisting about, flailing a wooden stick in the air, is immensely challenging.

Zanshin. Awareness. Even after you've finished, even when you're not practicing, staying aware of all that is happening around you. I find this lesson constantly needing renewal -- it's so easy to trick my focus into a narrow world and to forget that all else is really and truly part of the same system that I'm in. The guys practicing behind me aren't a distraction or something I need to shut out of my senses; they are part of the environment that I share, and as I practice, I must retain my awareness of them and where they are.

If only to avoid getting smacked with a piece of oak.

And of course for a teacher, which all of us are in some capacity, it's critical to have that wide awareness. That's something of what I was seeing in Sugino Sensei; how he would catch someone's movement halfway across the dojo and run over to interrupt and share some detail. Zanshin.

And just learning the basic stances and cuts again and again. You try and copy what Sensei teaches you, practice it and practice it, and then realise you've misunderstood something and have to overcoming all the conditioning you've already put in to the incorrect form. And then you do it again.

And you encounter other folks who learned a different emphasis, some other way of completing a movement. Sometimes it feels alien and awkward, sometimes it sets off a light bulb in your head and suddenly you understand so much of what you'd never understood before.

My understanding of a simple set of moves in the third kata got revolutionized by Dennis's patient instruction, and a whole sequence appeared to me in a new light. Tong-Sensei's explanations of o-kachi has made me wonder how I ever conceived of doing it otherwise. I have so much to learn, and it is such a joy learning it.

There is no goal in all this. There is no point at which I will finish learning and correcting and trying. I will never complete this journey, except in my death, which will come all too soon, I'm sure. But in the meantime, I hope I can continue studying and practicing this lovely, lovely art, for in that practice I find I learn far more than just postures and motions.

Thanks to Tong-sensei, to my practice partners for the day Dennis and Andre, to Lynne and Steve for coming out and giving moral support, and of course to Steph, not only for being a part of it but for all the great pictures. And of course, to everyone who took part and made it so exciting.