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In March 2013, we were delighted to welcome back Helen Nakano sensei, Kyoshi Godan from southern California, America. Nakano sensei first visited our British seminar in 2010.
Hiromi sensei is currently studying at Cardiff University, Wales and with constraints on the availability of both sensei, we were lucky to find a mutually convenient date in 22-24th March, 2013. So ‘everyone’ (with the exception of Hiromi sensei!) descended across and down to very cold, wet Wales (which, please note, is not England!)
Britain was still very much in the grip of winter, so many made long and arduous journeys through heavy snow and unpleasant weather. For some that meant five to six hours driving. For those who flew in, it took even longer to reach us. This effort was deeply appreciated by both sensei.
As this was Rachel’s former university, arrangements were slightly easier than might otherwise have been the case, but in considerable effort was still needed to keep the entire seminar running smoothly for both sensei and students. Thank you to Paul and others who did little bits to lighten the load.
Many students were delighted with the excellent sports facilities and noted the immaculate, clean and new, sprung wooden floor. Critically a wooden floor at a cost we can afford – is something of a rarity in Britain.
We were delighted to welcome and impress visitors from Portugal, Germany and France, in addition to the foreign players who live in Britain, ie. work or study. Everyone was warmly welcomed by the British Naginata students.
As London is the largest dojo in Britain, they had hired a mini-bus which brought the majority of attendees plus two foreign guests picked up in London. The bus also brought all the bogu for those who needed to borrow club equipment and those who needed to borrow naginata. No dignity was spared! Even Nakano sensei was “thrown” into London Dojo’s minibus!
Once again, generous donations and connections enabled us to ensure that everyone, guest or otherwise, was equipped with bogu & with naginata. Even some clothing was available to borrow!
Nakano sensei oversaw the entire seminar, and the opening basics, commands and joge-buri. Both she and Hiromi sensei walked around and corrected everyone. This was somewhat of a shock to some students, as that meant considerable time spent doing joge-buri, with Rachel calling the commands. Thankfully Shuko (pictured right, perfectly straight and ‘in-line’ with a naginata), noticed Rachel’s voice flagging and took over shouting to keep-time (ichi-ni). Earlier, Nakano sensei had commented that she was worried she would not remember everyone’s names. Fear not (!) once again, much to everyone’s amusement, we had name stickers which every student wore on their right arm (Anne is shown here). Extra yellow stickers were put on, identifying those who didn’t have a sensei teaching them every week. This meant both sensei would understand how and what each student was learning and their progression in Naginata. Andreas (from Germany) pointed out that even he and Rachel (London) didn’t have more sensei senior teaching them every week, but yet were teaching others and leading their countries -so both should have yellow stickers too!
Both Nakano and Hiromi sensei-tachi again appreciated knowing each student’s name and background. But the labels also ensured that students knew who each other were and made friends.
Like the 2012 seminar, we had a Friday evening practice of 90 minutes in bogu, for those who could wear full bogu (& one beginner without men). With long journeys just completed most, if not all of us, were pretty stiff. The bogu practice was held for people to loosen up and for Nakano sensei to see the students levels, which would help determine how much, or how little, she focused on teaching particular points during the main weekend seminar.
Rachel had to explain that with only two main dojo in Britain, London and Medway, and various ‘Northerners’ dotted around cities in the north of England – not to mention welcoming our overseas guests – this really was the only opportunity for many people to meet a lot of different bogu levels. Only London dojo puts on bogu with any regularity – and that showed! Not all students had arrived in time for bogu and a handful joined the main seminar the next two days.
It is always difficult to balance a seminar and budo which must focus it’s practice more out of bogu than in. With so many fundamentals needing to be taught, and taken on board, both sensei agreed there was a lot to cram in and reminded everyone that “Rome wasn’t built in a day”.
By Saturday everyone had arrived for the and we were very fortunate that we had the entire hall to ourselves. However the high ceilings and football/cricket being played in adjacent halls did not help acoustics, and soon we needed to kiai louder than our neighbours. Rachel as ever, provided the booming voice of commands, and ensured students were directed to the groups, where both Nakano sensei and Hiromi sensei split their time once we had finished the fundamentals.
Again, both sensei wanted to ensure they saw every student. Ikkyu grades and below went into one group; Dan and the shodan candidates, in to another. Essentially this split the group along the lines of those who knew the Shikake-Oji forms one to five and those who knew one to eight. Later, as promised, Nakano sensei helped the three sandans, revise their knowledge and learn the Zen Nihon Kata forms one to five, with each of the sandans rotating around Nakano sensei. Rachel and Andreas especially were grateful for this as it is a critical part for the yondan examination, and neither has many opportunities to learn and practice, unless they go to our Japanese dojo. Jana, thankfully, helped both and will continue to partner Rachel in England at northern dojo practices. Students were grateful for the opportunity to practice Zen Nihon during this seminar, but careful of it impacting on lower grade students learning time.
(Above) the dan plus shodan candidate group under the watchful eye of Nakano sensei: you had to be confident of shikake-oji one-to-eight to be in this group. (below) In the background, two out of the three the sandans are doing the Zen Nihon Kata. This made up the three separate groups, based on ability.
As in previous years, due to the level of support, BNA was able to extend the offer of friendship and invite as guests a number of foreigners who are resident in Britain and whose Naginata standard was senior and high. Their responsibility was to be there for all students, at every level; so they ‘anchored’ each practice and every student rotated around them.
Britain was blessed that, out of the six Japanese dan grade players we have scattered across England, two of them were able to join our national seminar. We were delighted to welcome former Japanese High School players and Naginata champions in their own prefectures, Shuko san from Okinawa and Masashi san from Shikoku (pictured here). Both these players had intensive more than ten years high school Naginata experience and are themselves still only in their early twenties. Masashi is at York University as an undergradate student and as a guy, is proof that Naginata isn’t “just for girls” – even in Japan.
The sensei were asked to use our guests as demonstration examples. In return we offered friendship and new opportunities to meet and make friends. This was also an opportunity for the guests to see how different it is learning Naginata in the West, compared to learning in the Japanese education system.
Jana is also a former champion who, at sandan, was welcomed as a friend primarily to support Rachel and as someone who would help her out doing Zen Nihon kata. All three – Jana, Shuko and Masashi – were shining examples to more junior students: in terms of conduct, etiquette and their Naginata technique and hopefully made lasting friendships with British players. The sensei noted that both Japanese players were technically straight-as-dice and good examples for students to follow. However, they very much had in their blood – Japanese ‘high-school-style’ bogu Naginata and thus gigeiko (both Shuko and Masashi are picture here in bogu).
As adults learning Naginata, western players were advised to be careful not to ‘bounce and bend’ like Japanese high school players. We have to behave and move in bogu ‘like adults’. This observation elicited chuckles from one or two of the senior players. Shuko and Masashi’s timing was, of course, impeccable and came from firm foundations in the fundamentals of basic Naginata technique. Something we do need to replicate.
Back to those fundamentals… the kyu group was with Hiromi sensei (seen from the back in the picture below left on the right-hand side executing the perfect hand position for furi-kaeshi….take note everyone). It was explained that furi-kaeshi, sorted the “men from the boys”. It was ‘the critical technique’ to master for shikake-oji three-four-five.
Students please don’t forget Hiromi sensei’s lesson and the time spent with you! Hands above your head; in the middle… and finishing in the perfect furi-age-te Men position; don’t lean at any point; remember your feet – keep your chin up; and stand up straight!
The energy and blur of dan grades doing gigeiko can be seen in the picture below. During Saturday, sandans and guest dans acted as motodachi for all seminar students, taking the kakari-geiko exercise (that’s continuous hitting in ’1-2-3′ timing for lower levels). This was topped off by ten minutes of uchi-kaeshi (that’s a set sequence) for everyone.
For seniors though, it was drummed in that only mastery of fundamentals and of shikake-oji would lead to correct cutting and scoring in bogu. Timing and distance and thus speed could best be mastered out of bogu. This still runs contrary to the instincts of our kendo players!
For dan grades, receiving instruction in shikake-oji 6-7-8 is a privilege, as so much of our time in Britain is spent bringing in new students and raising their level to master the core shikake-oji 1-5. The practice of difficult movements – and Nakano sensei spending a lot of time on 6-7-8 – was not only really needed but deeply appreciated for moving the senior students forward and upward.
We were pleased the weekend wasn’t only about Naginata. We had fun too. People glowed, lost energy, regained energy and helped each other out!
Nakano sensei couldn’t remember if this was her second or third “Fish ‘n’ Chips” supper (below, centre). Friendships were made (below, right) and continue on Facebook. Nakano sensei was entertained on her brief leisure day, before the seminar, with visits to Windsor town and castle (the Queen’s main residence outside London), that bastion of British-ness. She saw a different type of “Changing the Guard” from the well known version in London in this tiny, historic town (below left).
Bruno, an Italian currently studying in the London Dojo:
“Quick message to say that I have enjoyed the seminar very much, both the practice and the social aspects. The organisation was perfect. Thanks for everything….”
Sandrine from Paris:
“I would like to thank everybody for your kindness during this seminar. I had a great time and felt like I was part of your group. To Shuko and Anne with whom I shared the room, thanks for the big bed. To Paul, Claire and Adrian, thank you for the songs ! I had a really great time wit you guys last night ! To everyone in the minibus, thank you for making sure I would catch my Eurostar train. Especially to Stephen and Francis who walked me until the Eurostar gate. Thanks again to everyone…”
Francis: a British student from the London dojo, the only mu-kyu who successfully tested for fifth kyu:
“I really enjoyed the seminar, especially as I felt that the other students were encouraging me to rise to their level. And it did my confidence a world of good for the grading to have Hiromi sensei personally run me through shikake-oji 1 and 2…I have a nice warm glow inside me”.
Colin, a British from Medway dojo, Kent:
“I really enjoyed it this time (not so nervous as before !) – a personal thank you…”
Anne, a student from Sweden, living in northern England:
“Thank you so much…. I had an absolutely lovely time and really enjoyed the training!”
Jana, one of our guest helpers:
“I want to thank you for a really good seminar in Cardiff”
Great Britain is delighted to announce details of our 2013 annual seminar.
This will take place in Cardiff (Wales), on the weekend from Friday 22nd March to Sunday 24th March 2013. The venue is the University of Cardiff.
We are pleased to welcome, Helen NAKANO sensei, Kyoshi (USA). She will be supported by Hiromi UMIZAWA sensei, Godan (Japan). They will also form the examination panel for the grading with Rachel from the London dojo.
Information regarding the event (pdfs):
Please use the forms below to book individual dan and kyu/ungraded attendees or mixed grade groups. We can accept payment by cheque, bank transfer, paypal or credit card. (Please note the credit card payment uses Paypal, but you do not need a Paypal account).
NOTE ON GRADING
Grading is to shodan only.
Following a busy Saturday previously, due to London Naginata dojo’s participation at the Japan Matsuri, the rescheduled opportunity to take Kyu grades, was on Saturday 13th October, hosted by London Dojo.
Once again this was led by Hiromi sensei from Medway Dojo, in Kent and she was joined by two of her own students who’ve been with her some years now. London Kyu candidates were supported by the London based seniors and Japanese players.
Hiromi sensei focused attention on fundamentals out of bogu. Joge-buri (swinging) needs work for everyone: the metsuke (gaze or eye-line) was pointed out as particularly important and overlooked.
It was after all the first thing that sensei or an examination panel sees. Before we moved to shikake-oji (kata) practice in a huge mawari-geiko style (rotating around the senior Japanese nidan).
Key for everyone, junior and senior (kyu or dan) was what to correct and focus on, for the next six months of their own study, and for those thinking of taking an exam in 2013, a long list to take on board of improvements to make.
For Naginata, the steering appears to be for at least Kyu and Shodan level, that students should be put in for the exam, ‘ready to pass’, rather than “trying their luck” and hoping they might pass. Therefore, the impression may be left for those with other budo experience that the pass-rate is near 100% or very high percentile passing. Essentially the emphasis is put on the sensei to guide their students and advise when they are ready to take the exam, and prepares them according for the exam with the intention candidates will pass (obviously it’s a student’s responsibility to handle any erratic performance delivery! a sensei can’t be blamed for everything a student does out there on the D-Day).
Hiromi sensei actually stated prior to the exam: she did not want to fail anyone, but she would fail people if candidates nerves made them deliver a poor performance ! or if candidates were clearly not ready. With that in mind, we had five students in the end; sadly two others were unable for personal emergencies didn’t make it. Other regular students from London and Kent, were deemed ‘not ready’ or had missed too many recent practices, due to being overseas during the 2012 year or summer. That’s how honest everyone must be.
The success for the three London students and 2 Kent ones, was warmly congratulated by Hiromi and Rachel sensei-tachi who sat on the panel. After Hiromi sensei had a point of what to do better, for every individual candidate on a mistake they made and one point on what they did well. But all students present that day were there for the feedback, if only to reflect for their own future exam candidacy. The support throughout the practice from those not taking the exam, and who were essentially ikkyu and higher, was appreciated.
Special thanks to Fujita san, for leading and being the motodachi to lead the joge-buri and datotsu commands for the 5-3kyu exams, sorry you missed the senior jigeiko going on the other side from the exam. As always thanks to Paul, thLondon dojo sempai who kept the practice for all in order with paperwork and supported both sensei, Hiromi and Rachel sensei-tachi appreciated it.
Congratulations again, to the five successful students who passed.
This year, the London Matsuri 2012 event was moved from behind the London Eye (of 2011) to the much larger and open venue of the infamous Trafalgar Square, home of Nelson’s Colum, the four big lions and two fountains. The London team effort was superb and people had a really enjoyable day out. www.japanmatsuri.com has grown enormously since we were first asked to take part, and with it the crowds too. This year Paul, our sempai had worked hard to secure two performance slots on a busy martial arts stage.
Everyone who volunteered was valued. Those too shy to be on stage did important support roles. Many of the amazing photos we have shared here and subsequently many more put on personal Facebook pages were here were taken by Joe (left, Ikkyu, Naginata).
Everyone who was on stages has a shot of themselves with Nelson’s Column, proving they were doing Naginata that day in such wonderful surroundings. Mariko (right, 1dan), ensured our leaflets of information about London Dojo were handed out, we had produced both English and separate Japanese ones.
Paul (2nd dan) once again provided commentary and received compliments it was clear and easy to understand what was going on as each part of our demonstration was matched to what he was saying about what was happening; the biggest compliment was his tone was warm.
Rachel, the London sensei decided once again to show case the entire Naginata syllabus and importantly show the progress of from joge-buri right up to high level jigeiko and ishuu-jiai. Also we wanted to demonstrate by including all levels of students could be included in a regular class.
We started with the jogeburi and commands.
Then Uchi-Kaeshi by a mix of levels from Kyu to Nidan (Shuko, Claire, Ivan and Ercan), some wearing bogu and some not. We felt it was really important not just to show the top grades looking intimidating or brilliant, but that London Naginata dojo included all abilities.
After we showed all eight Kata (called “Shikake-Oji” in Naginata) demonstrated by Noriko (2nd dan) and Rachel.
This was then followed by showing Kyu students doing slow kakarikgeiko – this is continuous attacks, against a senior (motodachi, 2dan) grade – so that Paul could explain what the targets were and that the audience had just seen them from the kata. Claire was deliberate and precise. Afterwards Ivan went on, and attempted to show a higher speed, and again Paul explained the purpose was to improve technique with speed and an awareness of what target was being shown. Hopefully the audience would understand better when they saw free sparring, called jigeiko (in Naginata and Kendo) was deliberate striking and cutting, rather than a mess of body and sticks going crazy.
We showed woman-to-woman jigeiko with Shuko (Okinawa) and Noriko (Osaka) who are both 2dan, and both in the wonderful iconic shot opening this news item. Then Man-to-Woman (Paul and Shuko), to show everyone practiced safely together in London and around the world in other dojo like ours: then we showed Man-to-Man (Murray, 1dan and Paul). The audience could see different ability levels and physical builds show-casing this was a Budo (martial art) for all types of prospective students.
Finally Paul and Rachel rounded up the 25 minute time slot with Ishuu-jiai. As two different London Kendo dojo were demonstrating in time-slots before and after our Naginata demonstrations, it was a good opportunity to unite the two disciplines and finish with the London Naginata sempai and sensei. All of this we did twice over (12:30 and 14:00), and everyone agreeing the second time was better as we knew what was going on by then!
Every year students who practice in London dojo, Japanese, other foreigner and British – more and more want to take part in the Matsuri and the crowds are growing too.
Japan Matsuri in central London is one of the biggest European Matsuri for Japanese culture, food, art, children’s activities and business (travel and airlines). Even if our English and Japanese information leaflets bring in just a few new students and experienced Japanese players (like the four we currently have in London), London and Medway (Kent) dojo students will grow in strength too.
The day could not have gone any better: we had wonderful blue skies and warm autumn weather, and a lot of happy faces from the London Naginata Dojo and a big crowd of tourists and locals.
A huge thank you to everyone who took part, and to other London students who turned up to cheer us on. Thank you to friends and family who gave us the additional photos.
The BNA has been invited to perform a demonstration at the Japan Matsuri 2012 – a festival of Japanese culture taking place in Trafalgar Square in London on Saturday 6th October 2012. See http://japanmatsuri.com for information on the festival.
London Naginata Dojo will demonstrate Naginata in the two time slots, at 12.30 – 1.00pm and 2pm – 2.30 pm western side of the pedestrian area in front of National Gallery.
The British Naginata Association warmly congratulates Umizawa sensei on achieving her Godan (5th Dan) in mid-May in Japan.
Hiromi sensei, who runs the Medway dojo, Kent, returned to Japan to take her Godan. It is wonderful news, Hiromi sensei passed.
Hiromi sensei, is our resident Japanese sensei living in Kent for over 8 years now, however, hails originally from Tokyo. She has also been the supporting sensei to the invited foreign sensei each year at Britain’s annual Naginata seminar. We hope while Hiromi sensei continues living in Britain, she will always be our Japanese sensei of choice supporting British Naginata as it continues to go from strength to strength, slowly but surely. We are extremely lucky to have such a kind, happy supportive Japanese sensei living here, which she indicates will ‘not be forever’ as she will return to her Japanese homeland and to Tokyo ‘some day’.
To give non-Naginata players some comparative indication of ranks in Atarashii Naginata.
All Kyu grades must be taken. In Britain that is from 6kyu up to 1kyu (essentially the coloured belts, like in Karate or Judo). There is some exception at the lower end of the Kyu ranks, which might be jumped if it is evident year(s) of practice betray a lack of opportunity to take an exam.
After all the Kyu there is Shodan (1st Dan) up to Godan (5th Dan) – with various X minimum years to be served between each Dan level. Godan (5dan) is the highest dan grade you can be and thus attain in Atarashii Naginata. This is unlike other Budo, which generally goes up to Hachidan (8th dan), and where the first ‘serious’ exam is 1Kyu (Ikkyu – commonly the brown belt in other Budo).
After that in Atarashii Naginata, Shogo titles can be awarded only after achieving Godan (5dan). Renshi, a minimum of 3 years or more after achieving Godan (must be aged 28 or more). Kyoshi, a minimum of 7 years Renshi must be held (must be aged 35 or more) Finally, Hanshi, a minimum of 20 years at Kyoshi must be held (must be aged 55 or more)
(We have never known a Hanshi award be given at the minimum age… invariably sensei are at least into their 60s – and on a rare occasion, posthumously)
We hope this puts into context the top Naginata Godan grade that Hiromi sensei achieved in mid-May, 2012 in Japan under AJNF examinations. Congratulations once again from Great Britain.
In May, on the back of a tiring business trip to Hong Kong and southern China, Rachel was warmly welcomed into the small but dedicated Hong Kong Naginata dojo.
Willingly giving up her only two days free on a weekend, she was absolutely delighted and humbled by the Naginata students friendliness. They are all are under the guidance of Roy (who achieved his Shodan at the last World Naginata Championships in Himeijii). His gentle manner and humility was clearly of a man who had an honest heart.
Just a note, Roy first visited London dojo many years ago when we welcomed him as someone just starting out in Naginata. Later both Roy and Georgina joined the BNA delegation to the INF Sweden seminar in 2006, that was the last time Rachel saw both Roy and Georgiana.
It was evident this was a group of good friends, and the camaraderie was really touching. Some students knew Roy from Hong Kong Kendo, or had been introduced to Naginata through word-of-mouth. This friendship spirit pervaded the dojo, and it was clear everyone was focused on learning Naginata and improving.
The first practice was a Sunday and just under 4 hours, and there were five keen students. The second practice was the following Saturday just under 3 hours, and again there were 5 students. To Rachel’s delight Johnston had been a university student in London and Kendo player learning under Paul Gray (also the London Naginata dojo’s sempai) and had started learning Naginata in London too before departing after only a couple of month’s Naginata classes. Her visit coincided with Johnson’s decision to ‘check out’ Kendo and Naginata now that he had returned to Hong Kong.
Rachel was astonished that some students had been practicing between 1-5 years and had either had only one chance to take a kyu exam, 5kyu or take no exam at all, as their standard was high for the time in years they had dedicated to practice, and this was a credit to Roy’s teaching and patience.
Georgiana in particular was good partnering Roy to help him progress too, and her shikake-oji 6, 7 and 8 was a meritorious effort and Roy had clearly not forgotten seminar teachings.
Everyone who was experienced had bogu. Rachel was smiling at the doh that was lent to her (she took over only her clothes, and men & nagi kote combination) as it was the “old style” barrel looking type. The doh was hand-made by Chiba Bogu and was really light (albeit a little big as it was Roy’s best doh).
Both practices had left a lasting impression that this was clearly relaxed friends learning under Roy’s patience and kindness. His attention to his students was evident and deserved praise. Importantly everyone enjoyed learning together and helped each other out.
Once again Rachel was struck how learning Naginata round the world required dedication, motivation and fortitude often against some tremendous odds. Those in Japan or others who have senior sensei “on their doorstep” perhaps not realising other Naginata players are not so fortunate. This made Hong Kong players eagerness and hunger to learn so humbling.
Rachel’s abiding memory of Hong Kong Naginata is one of generosity and big-heartedness, and cannot wait to return to see everyone’s Naginata improvement but mostly see Roy, Georgiana, Winnie, Daisy, Matt and Johnson’s smiles.
(Hong Kong Naginata dojo regular normal practice night is Tuesday)
Please find below an update on seminars during the second half of 2012, with Kyu and Dan examinations up to Sandan.
We are very keen to encourage British naginataka to attend events if you want to, but please let Rachel know, so she can coordinate arrangements. This can sometimes require a team effort by the BNA Executive to cover activities such as: sending in forms for Britain (and not individually by each student); arranging funds to be paid from BNA; and potentially, the Chairman writing letters for those who want to take any exams.
The naginata seminar will be held by M° Helen Michiyo NAKANO, Kyoshi, Vice – President of International Naginata Federation.
NAKANO Sensei will be assisted by the ENF Technical Director, M° Cecile HAMOT Renshi and by David D’HOSE, Vice-President of ENF, who will also compose the examination committee.
(The exam syllabus is very close, if not identical to the one the ENF Technical Director sends out to ENF countries)
Taking place in Uppsala, Sweden 24-26th August 2012.
The closest Airport is Stockholm Arlanda. It is circa 40 minutes by bus/train.
Summary information is:
Seminar cost – 80 Euros (for all 3 days)
Evening Party at the end (which folks are expected to attend) – 25 Euros
Lodging in Uppsala:
This is three days of good seminar, with an international selection of sensei, Japanese, American, as well as European – teaching in English, either via translation or sensei who speak English.
(Please note we have only just received the full information, and the deadline is in 3 days, 1st JUNE for the forms, and 1st JULY for all final payment) People living in Britain if you want to go, you need to get in touch as soon as possible !
Date is now confirmed as Saturday 10th November in Prague, Czech Republic.
People will need to allow 3 days, Friday 9th, Saturday 10th and Sunday 11th for events. More information is to follow.
You may wish to allow 4 days with travel if you want to ‘look around’ Prague.
The sports centre is the Arena Sparta
It is one day of Championships, short seminar, with Ikkyu and Dan (up to 3dan) exams, held alongside the one day Championships.
British passport holders, DAN and IKKYU, in particular, will be lobbied to try and budget to attend and compete for Great Britain. Hopefully with this advanced notice, annual leave and cheap flights can now be arranged in good time.
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.