Due to an increasingly crowded autumn calendar, Great Britain moved its annual Naginata seminar – where foreign sensei are invited to head our seminar – to Spring time. The weather and scene was just amazing. We were felt lucky on many counts.
There is always trepidation when inviting a sensei you have never experienced, but we were delighted that J. Ryngen sensei, Godan of Sweden accepted BNA Executive’s invitation to head our seminar. Once again the resident Japanese sensei H. Umizawa sensei, Yondan who runs a dojo in Kent supported Jakob sensei. Rachel, Sandan the London dojo sensei completed the line up.
As a first, we also experimented by moving the seminar out of London and southern England, to the historic city of York, some 2½ hours by train from London, or four hours by car from London and Heathrow and 3½ hours south of Edinburgh, Scotland. The viking city of York was ironically the mid-point for others coming from England, north Wales and Scotland. Many had made two-to-three hour journeys to attend this seminar. The University of York’s campus provided an excellent first rate venue with an immaculate wooden sprung floor and en-suite accommodation.
The seminar set out and timed precisely to ensure smooth running, and getting as much learned for the wide spectrum of students ability attending this seminar. That meant a tremendous amount of equipment (armour) taken up primarily the London dojo and with some spare sune (shin-protectors) from the Kent dojo, along with naginata to lend to foreign visitors and students, so that every participant had bogu (armour, minus men (head protector), for beginners, and below yonkyu). This left both sensei and foreign students somewhat stunned how lucky British Naginata is, both through Japanese donation, and close relationships with Paul’s and Rachel’s sempai status with Kendo clubs, to have at their disposal a substantial amount of club equipment to lend.
Additionally all of the students in the North and young lad from Finland, are learning remotely without regular Dan sensei and thus lack opportunities to wear bogu, with an insured Dan sensei present. Northern students it was explained to sensei, were learning by Rachel teaching every three months an all day Naginata practice, and then only determined practice in those northern towns by dedicated individuals, carried these students through. Jakob and Hiromi sensei were admirable of how such northern students were learning Naginata.
We were absolutely delighted welcome Andrew of Southern California, who was on a six month ‘study exchange’ to Cambridge University, and Masashi san of Shikoku, who is studying at York University itself. Their remit was to not only be our guests and help out everyone, but especially the Ikkyu and above, but to make new Naginata friends and experience our generous warmth we extend to any visitors to Britain. The experienced senior Naginata players here, benefited hugely from Andrew and Masashi san as both were outstanding examples of Naginata players to look up to, and importantly watch carefully when Jakob sensei demonstrated with either of them.
Briefly we report, an extra all bogu session was put on the first Friday evening, for those ikkyu to sandan, so two guests Andrew and Masashi san, also attended. This practice was explained as being desperately needed for seniors who generally receive little instruction on how to improve their bogu Naginata standard
The main seminar started on promptly on Saturday 17th March, morning, after two cars full of equipment had been carried in, the sports hall had given us an immaculate clean wooden floor.
The entire class of 21 students were kept together for key basics, like joge-buri and commands, before being split up into 2 groups, those who knew (kata, ie. set routines/forms) shikake-oji 1-5, those who knew shikake-oji 1 to 3. Everyone was asked to rotate around Andrew and Masashi san, so they had chance to practice with the best. Rachel sensei jumped in and out, when there was odd numbers, and when she took a northern student for whom it was only her second Naginata practice but was determined to come to this seminar.
Up to lunch time, it was an intense morning of Jakob and Hiromi sensei taking apart and guiding students, to improve their technique.
Rachel had advised in her experience: after lunch and filling up on food, students’ attention span tended to dip and go awol with their blood sugar levels (!) So with that, she planned for everyone to be in bogu – much to the laughter and delight of everyone present. It was a particularly awesome sight, to see 21 students (except one due to a former injury) in bogu.
Students and sensei were intrigued why stickers B and T were put on a minority of individual’s Doh. Everyone was gathered round in “Gogi”, and were informed – B meant Beginner, ie. it was probably only their first or second time wearing bogu, so this indicated to a partner, be even more kind and considerate to this individual. So what did the T mean ? Well that was for Nidan and above, meaning only a T marked Doh, could an individual receive Tsuki.
Cue – more nervous laughter. This idea worked, as one London student commented, “I was more aware the person opposite might be a northern student who didn’t know how to wear or move easily in bogu” – it changed their mindset. Another student marked with a B, expressed his relief but joy. Another northern student could not stop smiling, declaring he was “Born to wear this stuff” !!
Rachel had carefully explained to sensei why 80 minutes of bogu practice had been put in the schedule, besides the “attention span” reason. Essentially explaining, in Britain she encourage all students when safe to practice in bogu (without the men), and do light practice to experience the entire Atarashii Naginata syllabus, because she did not want students spending 6-9 months as beginners without bogu, only to discover 9-12 months later they hated armour or could not mentally cope with the bogu aspect of being “hit” in Naginata. It was best beginners and low kyu, found out how they felt in bogu, sooner rather than later, safely of course. Not least we in Britain, were in a very fortunate position to have a generous amount of equipment to loan out.
Jakob sensei meanwhile, took seven senior students, wearing full bogu (ie. including the men). With thanks to Tobias who took one northern student aside, who was only on her second Naginata lesson. Patience was welcomed. The senior group were put through their paces, building upon Friday night’s practice. Critically, some seniors were lucky enough to practice with both Andrew and Masashi san. Again they were absolutely awesome in their standard, and accuracy of cuts they made. Those practicing in Britain, had a lot to think about, improving the bogu side of Naginata – Gigeiko (free sparring) on Sunday was the cream on top for the seniors with Jakob sensei, Hiromi sensei, and both our guests Andrew and Masashi for senior seminar students.
Feedback from Hiromi sensei, was pure joy. “The atmosphere and energy was electric”. We had also acquired from the upper gallery spectators. For 80 minutes, everyone looked impressive. The san-kyu and below group, were kept alive by mixing up Uchi-kaeshi and learning simple sune-waza techniques.
The end of the first day, we all returned to complete the shikake-oji kata not covered before lunchtime. Students were fueled by chocolate sweet (candy) covered Birthday Cake of one of the London students who was celebrating a birthday.
Finally, Rachel had put both Jakob and Hiromi sensei “on the spot” and explained she wanted them both to demonstrate, not teach, the Zen Nihon Kata, 1 to 7. More so as inspiration, but primarily so that students in Britain, especially those mature students coming to our Naginata budo later in life, understood what lay on the horizon as they progressed. Both Jakob and Hiromi sensei rose to the challenge.
Students remained transfixed during the demonstration, where they were also instructed all video must remain private and photos to be treated respectfully in tagging or identifying individuals.While Jakob and Hiromi sensei remain nervous by their impromptu demonstration, a measure of the inspiration came from a comment of one our mature students “Can I ever do what those sensei just did, one day?”
As to what made our seminar feel like a success, the list is too long. For some, it started with a hearty full English breakfast, for others the setting, facilities and local staff just first class. For others, it was the two sensei. Paul and Rachel took comfort, that Jakob sensei had been the right choice to teach in English, a level of students in Britain – that was still very much growing and improving steadily. The self-depreciating humour, the clear explanations, the easy-going approach put Hiromi sensei at ease to give nothing but her best.
We end our website seminar report, with the “Usual Guilty Suspects” Line-Up against the wall. So there was no mistake which Budo this was, some students requested to keep their bogu on and some wouldn’t let go of their naginata (!)
We’d like to leave folks with generous thanks to all whom made this seminar happen. The organisation and planning that went in, easy online booking by Paul, the local folks who provided inside knowledge and help. Our two foreign guest university students, Andrew and Masashi san for being supremely patient and helpful. Ultimately massive thanks to both sensei, for Jakob sensei flying in from Stockholm, and having an exhausting weekend with us, and to Hiromi sensei from Kent, (via Tokyo originally) whom students said, “she didn’t stop smiling all weekend”.
For those students at the seminar, a final reminder of why Jakob sensei was a success heading the British annual seminar, in 2012. All students have a lot to remember, but none of us will forget the image of a Big Cheese and his funny explanation in hilarious English, how to cut cheese with a naginata.
Seminar Information: the next seminar running the INF/ENF examination criteria, will be in Novara, Italy on 16-17th June 2012. Please contact the Italian Federation (CIK). Good Luck.