7th Annual Gi Yu Dojo Seminar Reflections

Matt Wooton, 6-25-2014

Ichi Kyu—The Gi Yu Dayton Dojo


While I hate to admit it, this was the first seminar where I was able to attend every session.  At the same time, it seems that it went by much faster than any of the previous ones.  Here are a few of my observations about the entire weekend, including kyu rank testing as well.

On the topic of rank testing preparation, I found that starting early and practicing on a consistent schedule has a host of advantages.  In my case, I started roughly one week after my previous rank test.   I worked on learning the basics of the techniques, and I kept a consistent weekly schedule for most of the year.   However, a few months prior to the test, I had a few work and family issues that kept me from attending class on a regular basis.  I shouldn’t really expect anything different as this is a function of having a job and a family, which are both good things.  This really didn’t matter too much -- I was mostly refining techniques at that point, with a few exceptions.  However, if I hadn’t put in the practice time earlier, I would not have been able to succeed by cramming.    I also felt like I was keeping a higher state of preparedness, rather than relying on hitting a peak in my training right before the seminar.   This seems like it would be more in line with being a student of budo – one can’t expect to need your skills only when you’ve had time to prepare.  This was reinforced when sensei admonished the group at tameshi giri to keep our swords (or other weapons) oiled and ready for the day they are needed.  This concept applies to more than just weapons of wood or steel. 

I have a very healthy respect for the challenge posed in our rank test.   Never in my career, education, or any other martial arts experience, have I ever been allowed to know both the date and content of an examination beforehand.  And yet, despite these advantages, rank testing at our dojo is still a very difficult milestone.      Sensei provided some great direction to all of those going through rank testing:  be confident in your ability to pass, but don’t be shattered by failure.  More great advice came from my black belt mentor, who said to not dwell on mistakes made on the previous technique while taking the test.  For some (perhaps misguided) reason, I usually prefer to approach testing assuming that I have already failed – this way, each technique brings me a little closer to success, rather than dodging another opportunity for failure.  I always feel that achieving success is easier than maintaining success.  It’s the difference between running towards a good result and running away from a bad result.

After experiencing several sessions of Shinken Gata, I have a very solid appreciation for this devastating set of techniques.   From the receiving of a punch / kick with a strike to hoshi to the finishing throws that are extremely awkward for the uke, I was impressed by the way many of the techniques seem to negate size/height advantages.  In one instance, I was paired up with a black belt where I felt I had a significant size advantage, only to experience a koryu-style harai goshi that actually seemed worse due to his low stance during the throw.  The more unsettling part of the experience was that he was purposefully holding back on the technique to lessen the impact.

From the tameshi giri experience, I also learned that there is simply no substitute for practical experience.  I’ve always thought that my downward cuts (kesa-giri, gyaku kesa giri) were better than my upward cuts (kiri age, gyaku kiri age).  With some actual cutting practice, I learned that the opposite was true.  One of the black belts explained to me that this is due to the additional momentum built up during the rising cuts, which seemed a great explanation.  I never would have learned this through cutting the air, but now I can practice cuts in the air with this in mind.

Overall, the seminar was a great experience and great training.  I have a customer who uses a quote from Aristotle in his email signature:   “We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act…but a habit”.  I have always liked the tagline – we are very fortunate that our dojo provides an environment where we can train with like-minded individuals in pursuit of excellence.