Friday, August 18, 2017

A matter of interpretation

A short while back, a student and I attended a large group training weekend. We had a lot of fun, generally speaking. I like my student, who has worked very hard and done quite well in terms of advancement, but he sometimes (as a lot of beginners seem to do), focuses on details when the big picture is more important. For example, every now and then, he will ask about the exact angle for a kamae, as though I am carrying around a protractor. At times like this I (or one of the other sempai) will make fun of him in a gentle way, and I will remind him that maintaining a flexible mind when it comes to kata is a good thing.

By flexibility, I don't mean changing the kata to suit oneself (which is not good form for koryu budo). Instead, for example, when doing a partner kata with a jodoka a foot taller than me (which happens frequently in America), if the tachi side's target for a cut is his midsection, I might cut for the upper thigh instead. Same cut, same technique in response (though perhaps a little closer to the floor). It makes more sense for me to do that than to try to cut for a target I can't reach. Most importantly (for koryu training purposes), the kata is essentially unchanged.

So - halfway through our training weekend, I had a few minutes with my student (we were at different levels and hence in different training groups), and he mentioned to me, with some distress, that one of the instructors was "changing" some aspects of the kata; and that some of the kata he was reviewing were "different." Not having much time for discussion, I assured him we could go over things the following week at our regular okeiko.

Kata are not hoary, rigid sets of movements. Neither are they free-for-alls. The first gasshuku I attended in Japan, senior, menkyo-level students would sometimes stand around in little groups, debating this or that aspect of a kata. The discussions could become very involved, until the lead teacher would show up. Someone in the group would explain the discussion. The teacher's response was always the same: "Do it like this." That would settle the argument. But only for the time being. The debate would resume at another practice, at another time.

These discussions were not subversive disagreements. The speakers, all 30-40-year practitioners, were considering interpretations of what they were doing in a given kata. The ideas were often based on aspects of timing, not of specific techniques. Do you suki tachi to push him back to keep him from attacking further? Or do you let him establish a retreating step and "help him along" with the suki to increase the distance between you? In both cases, the technique was still a suki, still occurring at the same place in the sequence of movements. The difference lay in the interpretation.

It had not occurred to my student, but we did have the same instructors for the training weekend. They were all rather admirably on the same page for the actual kata we were training in, but, not surprisingly, some of the ideas behind the techniques varied from time to time, and from person to person. Having been through this experience before, it was not difficult to handle my student's doubts about the kata when we had our next regular okeiko.

The "differences" he noted were not really different; I pointed out. The kata themselves were unchanged. What to do with the different interpretations? Absorb them, I said. When an instructor suggested a different motivation for a technique, try it out. If the next instructor had a different idea, try that one too. What he would come to find out is that neither idea was necessarily wrong (if it was, that would be a separate problem). Instead, the different interpretations add depth to the understanding of the kata. Moreover, the more we try these different interpretations under the guidance of seniors and teachers, the more we can adapt to different training partners. As weird as it seems, I do sometimes get to practice with someone close to my size. When that happens, the original target for my cut on the tachi side rematerializes. Without maintaining that flexibility of mind, I would be aiming too low for practicality in the name of blindly following the interpretation I had set for myself.

Kata are not an end in themselves, and they are not museum pieces. They are pedagogical methods that only become useful as they are applied in different situations with different training partners. Recognizing when to react one way or another when training, even in koryu kata, enriches and enlarges our practice.

Friday, May 19, 2017

At your convenience

So, I changed my schedule. Then I changed it again. I now teach only twice a week(!) and that gives me some time to pursue other things.

To be honest, it's a little weird. I have taught or taken a class on Thursday night for probably the better part of 20 or more years. But now the schedule is Tuesday and Wednesday, and I can't complain. It gives me energy to pursue some other things on Fridays that I would like to do. Not to mention I am no longer a zombie at the end of the week. But it does feel strange. I have yet to figure out what I should do on Thursdays. Maybe I will do something. Maybe I will just give myself permission to be tired. Not sure yet.

Of course, I let some of my absent students know that I would be changing the schedule. Hell, I even gave them two weeks' notice! Not everyone - I mean, people who had been absent for over a year, what responsibility did I have towards them? I changed the website at least. I think I did everything a responsible human is supposed to do. I let everyone know that they were more than welcome to join us at the new space.

And guess what? One person who has been absent for almost two years, showed up on a recent Thursday looking for me. Another guy (absent for about a year) wrote me a polite email more than month after the change, thanking me for teaching him, but noting that it's "not possible" for him to join me at the new location. Well dang.

I am sorry to lose these people. I liked them. They were nice. One even kept up his dues payments (sort of) even though he never showed his face. I appreciated that. And I told him so. But a dojo is not just a space where you pay rent (and pay dues). A dojo is made up of people. And an empty room (even one that's paid for) is just that - an empty room. An empty room that it took a long time for me to get home from.

When I was first training, we had okeiko all over town. For several years we were at this nice space in Chelsea. Then the building was sold, and we all - budoka, dancers, everyone - got kicked out and had to forage for a place to be. For awhile there, we had a phone tree (remember those? This really dates me) to inform everyone every week of where we were having okeiko. Over the Howard Johnson's in Times Square. Some 2nd floor space where our kendo keiko caused the roof tiles to rain down in the bodega below. Even an unfinished basement. Wherever. The important thing was to have okeiko.

While I was getting a complement of 4-5 people at the remote location, I was happy to be there. I didn't mind the longer schlep as long as there were people to teach and practice with (okay, there was that one night when it was 10 degrees out and the train shut down and I had forgotten my wallet and had to walk 20 blocks to the bus, but that was exceptional). But people's work schedules change. So did mine.

So I get an email that having to travel an additional 15-20 minutes on the train to come to okeiko is "not possible." I lived in an outer borough for years. I would come to okeiko and it would take two hours (sometimes more) to get home. It was the '90s, when a woman traveling by herself in the middle of the night put up with physical danger that most young women now thankfully don't have to think about. But I went. Because I valued what I was learning and the people I was learning it from.

Now, I am the first to admit that having over 30 years of experience does not put me on the same level as my original teacher, or the people I train with in Japan. But I am pretty sure it puts me in front of most of the people around HERE. And people I have taught tell me I do a pretty good job. I needed to teach in a place that was easier to get to, so I got one. If this is just an auxiliary practice that you were attending when you felt like it, then yeah, it's not convenient for you. But if it's important, I think the effort will be worth it.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The everyday walk

My old sempai used to (sort of) quote Musashi by saying "The martial arts walk is the everyday walk." By that he meant that you should be yourself; that you should not have to adapt too much to effectively move if a dangerous situation should arise. In his way of thinking, one should practice until one "owns" the kata; after which your ordinary movement and that of any given technique should become one and the same. (I think the reverse is more true, but that is a topic for another post.)

I never said anything to contradict him; but the truth is, I never agreed with him. While the martial arts walk may ideally be the everyday walk, most people's everyday walks do not stack up in any way.

I once took a class (okay, it was in the theatre department) in which we had to walk around campus and (from a subtle distance) follow three different people around until we could more or less imitate their gait. Then we had to present what we had found about the way different people walked. I really liked this little exercise (which is more than I could say about the program as a whole) because it gave me a sense of how differently people handled moving through space. Age, weight, physical condition, footwear, cultural expectations - all of these factors influence how people move. And most people are not really aware of just how individually they walk. While my teacher was expecting us to pick up some idea of character development for some future acting role, I found the exercise fascinating simply for its own sake.

All of this uniqueness is wonderful, but it's not always effective. To note a very obvious example, walking while looking at your smartphone is not very smart. A number of people have done so with injurious (or even, occasionally, fatal) results. Then there is the sense that some people have of putting as little effort into moving about as possible. As one of my teachers once said, "If you are alive, then you should be lively." The natural counter to this argument is that we are all too tired to feel lively, but that's not really true. Putting energy and good alignment into your "everyday walk" is energizing. When I am very tired (usually around every Thursday morning), I take special care to put energy into my everyday movement. I save the look of exhaustion for when I get home, if then.

So I tell my budo students that they have to work on their footwork not just for their kata and waza when they are in the dojo; they have to work on it on the outside as well. Nothing drives me and my colleagues quite so crazy as watching a student do reasonably good footwork while performing a kata or technique, then plodding back to the line and slumping into a poor resemblance of seiza when they are finished. Outside of the idea that it is good to be lively even when he is not at okeiko, I have found that if a student only corrects his footwork during a given technique or kata, the moment a new set of techniques is introduced, the student has to learn his "kata walk" all over again. If an instructor introduces some hypothetical variation even to a familiar technique, the student whose martial arts walk does not coincide with her everyday walk will have trouble understanding it. Without the proper foundation of good footwork the variation in technique will feel alien to her.

Every teacher involved in movement training, whether dance or budo, has emphasized footwork. As I started to get better at these practices I began to notice that I could judge someone's experience and skill simply by how they walked. Any competent teacher can tell you that as the feet are set, so is the koshi (the area of the lower abdomen, hips and lower back). And as the koshi is set, so is whatever technique, whether in budo, in dance or in walking down a subway platform or crossing a street.

A number of my colleagues have noted that in practicing koryu budo, you adapt yourself to the art, rather than the art to yourself. In that case, if the martial arts walk is truly the everyday walk, then we must adapt our everyday walk to bring it in line with our practice, not the other way around.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

On not making students into beggars

A colleague of mine recently passed along some advice his teacher gave him many years ago: "Don't make people into beggars." He then went on to explain (because I truly did not understand what this meant) that if a student asks you for something (in the same way a beggar will ask for money), you should not necessarily give it to her. (In fact, it might be better for both of you, if you don't give her anything she asks for at all!) He went on to say that he thought I had done just that in the past, but it might be better if I didn't do it in the future.

I had to think about this for awhile before I began to understand it; and now that I do understand the idea somewhat, I would have to say that I agree with him. I have made beggars out of some people by giving them what they asked for. And I have decided, even though it's a hard habit to break, to stop.

I don't think I always had this problem. It seems to me that, long ago, before I began teaching on my own, I was pretty hard-assed. If someone asked me a question that I figured he knew the answer to, I refused to answer him again. Or I would answer his question with another one. A previous post of mine paraphrased a saying of Confucius: that the teacher gives a student "one corner" and the student must come up with the "other three." In other words, the teacher's job is not to spoon-feed knowledge to a student, it's to point him in the right direction and then expect him to deepen his understanding himself.

I always thought this was a good idea (thanks, Confucius). After all, a student will own her understanding of an aspect of budo training, and in fact value it more, if she has to arrive at that insight herself. To use a well-worn example, a Zen teacher gives a student a koan and the student has to come up with the answer himself, even if it takes years to attain. Budo is a somewhat more practical (and not as deep) type of training, but the point still holds.

However, somewhere along the way, I lost this aspect of my teaching. When a student asked for more training time, about a year ago, I demurred, saying he should practice more on his own. I was already at capacity, time-wise, and, while more training is generally good, quality counts more than quantity. Nevertheless, like the person you see on the subway day after day (and even year after year), asking for money, this student would not give up. So, eventually, I gave in, and added another day of okeiko.

At first, there were several people attending the extra day, and, though I was exhausted by the end of each week, teaching is energizing, especially when the response is enthusiastic. Was I a zombie at the end of the week? Yes. Yes I was. Multiple days of five hours of sleep or less took its toll on other parts of my life, too. Nevertheless, I rationalized it that while I was young enough, and healthy enough, I should practice as much as I could.

Three days in a row of teaching for multiple hours at a time seemed to be great for some of my students. However, I soon noticed that I was the ONLY one coming to okeiko three days a week! Everyone else came one day, or two days at the most. The person who begged for the extra day managed to come three times in a week a couple of times, and he was a wreck by day 3. And he lived closer, and got more sleep generally, than I did.

Teaching is exhausting. When I as an adjunct professor, I made sure to get more sleep the nights before I taught class. It wasn't that the students were smarter than me - they were faster. I needed more energy to keep up with them than they needed to outdo me (and we're talking English Composition here). Even though I was standing in front of a blackboard or sitting in an office chair, I sweated through my underwear every single class. I bristle every time I hear some bureaucrat opine that teachers are lazy people who only work nine months out of the year but get paid for 12. In the first place, teachers do work all year round. In the second place, the good ones work harder than almost anyone else.

Nevertheless, I can say that the collapse was slow. Sort of like how pain drops a veil over you and you don't even realize your diminishing capacity until it becomes really obvious to you and everyone else. I was functioning, but barely. I was forgetting things. Not the important stuff of everyday life, but the things that enrich that life. I have several hobbies (believe it or not) that involve collecting materials. I would buy materials while on vacation, for example, then forget entirely where I put them. Not that I had time to make use of them anyway. Other things that I enjoyed simply went away altogether (like regularly writing this blog). My dojo schedule didn't just take over my life, it became my life.

And my students, for whom I was sacrificing all of that time? Several of them dropped out, as people do from time to time. Relocation, work schedules, etc. etc. Normal things. The one who begged for the extra time is still around, but I think he learned just as well whether he spent extra time with me as not. In fact, I have come back to subscribing to old Confucius - he's better off searching out those other three corners on his own. My providing the other corners did not make him a better budoka. Instead, it made him more dependent on me for things he should have been figuring out on his own.

Just like the collapse, recovery has also been slow. I have kept three days of practice, but one of them is short, and for me alone. Soon there will be a "course correction" so that I will be teaching closer to home, the purpose being that I can indulge in the idea of more sleep just like my students do. I reorganized my hobby materials so I can actually find things when I want them (a never-ending process, but at least now I know where stuff is). Just in time for gardening season. Just in time for maybe sitting outdoors on a nice evening with a beer and just looking at the plants growing. It's a start.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Being a Student v. Being a Deshi

One of my colleagues, the Budo Bum, wrote recently about the differences between training in Japan and in the US. His major point was that Japanese budo students have a culturally-learned sense of discipline that they bring to their practice. While he does not state it specifically, the strong suggestion is that US students do not.

This point has lately been on my mind, as well. I find the difference rather stark; like the difference between someone being a student, and being a deshi (弟子). Most American budoka would consider themselves students. In the current climate, a student is someone who pays a teacher or an institution (like a college or trade school) in order to access knowledge. While the definition of deshi is a little harder to pin down, one of the attributes is to not only be a paying and passive learner, but to also take some responsibility for the health of the group as a whole. This sense of responsibility could mean helping to take care of the dojo space or assisting the teacher, not just on the dojo floor, but at other group activities as well.

In former generations in the US, being a student might have been closer to being a deshi, entailing a more personal relationship to a teacher. My parents, when I was a young child, would sometimes drop by to see an old university professor of theirs (I don't remember his name; I remember both of them referring to him, affectionately, as "prof"). They visited and corresponded with him until his death, and considered him a big influence on their subsequent life and work. Former students of my father, in turn, would come visit him occasionally, just to say hello.

Nowadays, however, college students are treated to a more consumer-based experience. They pay tuition and the teachers deliver information which will hopefully allow them to graduate into good jobs. As an adjunct professor many years ago, I experienced the beginning of this phenomenon. Typically, students would sometimes plead for passing grades for doing almost no work. More surprisingly, I recall a former student who actually launched an investigation (on his own, but involving the university) because he got an A- from me and thought he deserved an A. As a consumer, he felt he was being ripped off. Silly me - I thought he was there to learn.

Budo dojo in the US face a similar quandary, in a way. The budo teachers who strive to give as authentic an experience as possible find themselves up against a pay-for-services environment. The students pay a fee, and, in return, feel they are entitled to the knowledge (and sometimes even the remembered experiences) possessed by the teacher. While some US dojo have adapted a consumerist line, with varying degrees of success, the more traditional places find themselves a little out of step with the times.

When I was first training in the US, the consumerist model had not quite caught on yet. My original teacher was Japanese, and, though he emigrated shortly after the Pacific War and had lived in NYC for many years, he was nevertheless a fairly traditional guy. The sempai who was dojocho at the time was a very uptight person who seemed to me to perpetually have a pencil stuck up his butt. However, he taught us newbies something invaluable - how to behave in the dojo, and how to behave around Sensei all of the time.

"Sensei will never tell you when you're being rude," he once said, "but he will remember everything that you do." As I said, the dojocho was a real stickler, but a good teacher of the types of protocols that would be expected of kohai in the dojo. One thing he did consistently was assign a deshi to assist Sensei whenever we had a public demonstration. That person helped carry our teacher's equipment and keikogi, made sure his zouri were turned around for when he left the demo stage so he could easily step into them, and made sure he had water or food or anything else he needed. Eventually that job became mine more or less the whole time, and expanded to include duties as dojocho after the original person moved on.

Eventually, as I became a teacher on my own, I was impressed that even Japanese students in the US had no interest in modeling behavior more in tune with a deshi rather than a student-consumer. I don't know if it was because they did not have a more traditional upbringing or if it was because they simply got used to the American way of doing things. One time, I was late for okeiko and gave instructions for it to start without me. Upon entering the room, I was gratified to see the students diligently practicing, but disappointed that no one acknowledged that I was there. When I mentioned it to my Japanese student (who, as a senior, should have called the group to attention), he simply said, "Yes, but this is America." I responded that it was America, yes, but also the dojo.

I have, in my experience, met good students who were bad deshi. Good students are attentive at okeiko, and pay their fees on time, but are much less likely to pitch in when help is needed, whether taking care of equipment or planning a demo. I have seen students simply observe a senior or a teacher struggling with a heavy suitcase or equipment bag and do nothing to help. I have also seen guest teachers from Japan left alone after teaching a seminar, somehow expected to manage on their own in a strange environment by the host dojo once practice is over. I have stepped in on at least one of these occasions, and was surprised, when I asked the host dojo, that no one had even considered the possibility that someone who speaks no English in a foreign environment might actually be in need of assistance.

Mostly, though, I have seen passivity when it comes to the life of the dojo - students come to okeiko, but the relative health of the group doesn't seem to matter. It's as though, as long as they pay their class fees, there should be a practice to attend. I have met teachers who will shell out the difference between fees and studio rents from their own pockets when the number of dojo members drops through attrition, and no one notices. Instead of the sense that the teacher might be imparting valuable knowledge, the students feel that since they paid, they are entitled to a "product" in return.

I may sound like I am whining, but as one of my old sempai used to say, this is basic. My original teacher would have written me off ages ago for such indifferent behavior. Instead, because I paid attention to my hardassed sempai, my relationship with my original teacher was much closer. He arranged for me to homestay (and saved a starving grad student a lot of money) during visits to Japan. He also arranged for me to study with teachers there. Was it sometimes exhausting? Yes, of course - all those extra hours schlepping out to his home in Queens, getting to events early so that I could help him, snapping to when he was on the other end of a phone line and asking how I could be of assistance. However, my practice, and, in fact, my life, would have been much less rich without his help and advice.

One of my non-budo friends has pointed out that Americans do not necessarily know traditional protocol. That's true, but I responded that he himself assists older or disabled people who need help on the street. He even carries extra bandaids with him in case he comes across someone who needs one. While specific protocols have to be learned, courtesy, or supporting the welfare of a community, is not that culturally-specific. My dilemma now is how to teach my budoka-in-training what they should know already - that they should give a damn.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Why I don't write

The very small number of people who have read this blog with some regularity have probably noticed that there hasn't been much here lately. There are many reasons why, but I thought I would articulate a few (and bear with me: writing is like exercise. If you don't do it much, you don't do it as well).

It seems fitting, this week, to bring up this particular reason: I am tired of writing an anonymous blog. But, it is the only blog I can write. Ergo, if I can only write anonymously, but I am tired of being anonymous, the irresistible force is meeting the immovable object.

Why anonymous? Why not just come out and say who I am? I'll tell you, specifically. For the past 10+ years, I have been cyberstalked by a very persistent guy (he has no problem not concealing his identity, unlike myself). Many years ago, I published one of my first articles. It took awhile, but an online journal editor contacted me and said he was going to publish a rebuttal to my theoretical article, and did I want to respond? I thought this was sort of amusing, at the time. I mean, it was a theoretical article, sort of an exploratory piece. How does one rebut someone's theory? Certainly counter with one of your own; feel free. But a rebuttal?

So, I said, sure, bring it on. The author made some reasonable points, and did posit a theory of his own, but something about the tone of his article bothered me. I could feel the undertone - how dare I, a female, take on this subject? In the midst of attempting to pick apart my theoretical take, there was a sense that I was not really supposed to be writing about this subject at all. But I did my best, in my response, to note that alternative theories were certainly welcome. However, I could not resist pointing out that at least one source he said I had "neglected" to consult had not been published until after my original article appeared. I tried to keep things cordial, if a little cheeky, because that was sort of a goofy mistake on his part, let's face it. The author immediately wanted to publish yet another "rebuttal" further articulating why the premise of my article was "wrong," as he put it in the email the editor received. Maybe sensing trouble, the online editor declined, and suggested alternative possibilities for publication. This prompted a slightly menacing email wherein the author suggested I was a poor scholar who was being "protected" by my "friends" and he was being prevented from pointing out my true lack of merit, or something like that. (For what it's worth, other people disagree. To date, it is the only article I ever published that has been anthologized several times.)

In subsequent years, I blocked him from my Facebook feed, once he found me. Most recently (as in this year) I made the mistake of commenting, very briefly, in an email forum and got a prompt email from him, slightly mellower now, but still suggesting that we "engage in discussion" of his point of view. I deleted the email. And I will not comment in that forum again.

Unlike some other writers who are sometimes physically threatened for daring to write about subjects not considered sufficiently "female", I have not been physically threatened. This person lives a good distance away from me. Mostly I'm just tired. Because I know that if I engage him, I will never be free of him. There is no argument to be won; there would just be endless back and forth about how I am somehow "wrong," and he is somehow "right." Of course, ironically, I do not even buy all of the theoretical arguments I made in that piece years ago, though I still agree with the core of it. And I have not published *any* scholarly writing in a very long time, alas.

One of my colleagues is about to publish a collection of his blog posts as a "for real" book. His posts always bring comment: some trolling, some stupid, but much of it complimentary. He can use his real name. He has enhanced his reputation. I am sure people will buy his book. (I won't. Having helped edit most of the posts, I expect a free copy.) Anyone who does not think that misogyny holds back scholarship, or independent thought, can just read the above story again.

I prefer the word "misogyny", which means hatred of women, as opposed to "sexism," which sort of sounds like a minor problem, not to be taken seriously. In the wake of this week's election, I am fascinated by the commentariat asking our new prez-elect to renounce racism, while his misogyny is once more swept under the rug, except for the keening by a few female columnists. But that is probably fodder or another column that I will not be writing here.

There are other reasons; one of the big ones being I don't think people are really interested in what I have to say. And/or maybe I don't have as much to say as I used to. I don't lately seem to have a burning desire to send my thoughts out into the ether. I used to just do it for myself, and not worry about whether people read it or not. But lately, I do seem to care, and I have nothing to say.

So, for those people who have read these little posts - thanks. Sometimes it felt great to get stuff off of my chest, and if it created some entertainment, I'm happy. Maybe some people learned something. That's nice too. I am not going to delete the blog - it can stay here. Maybe I'll make a contribution again at some point. But there's nothing more to see here for now.

Monday, August 22, 2016

I'm not mad, it's just my RBF (resting budo face)

A couple of weeks back, I attended a gasshuku (usually translated, literally, as a "training camp," it might more acceptably be called a "weekend intensive"). I am pleased to report that approximately 20% of the attendees were female. In my many years of seminars, this was the most women I've ever seen at an event like this in the U.S.; and it was most gratifying.

It could be because of the sheer number of women, but the organizers did not seem to be quite so pandering, either. There was no discussion (that I overheard) of whether it was "proper" for a woman to not put one knee down in certain squatting positions (a remark I have never heard a Japanese teacher make, but I have certainly heard it in the U.S.). And no one expected us to be "nice" or to "smile," not even for the group photo. It was a budo seminar, after all, where the object of the techniques we were learning was to badly hurt, or kill, an opponent. Come to think of it, smiling might have been considered a little creepy in this context.

I have been going to events like this in the U.S. for a very long time - about thirty years. Much of the time I was the only female; or one of two or three at most. (Inevitably, one or more of the other women would be married to a male participant). It was not that long ago that I was observing for a day at one event and was accosted by a woman (a non-participant) who was married to one of the attendees. She went on for entirely too long about some academic research she was involved in. I expect it was for several reasons: 1) a way to call attention to the fact that she was involved in something important; and 2) a way to keep occupied, because, truly, she was bored out of her skull. Somehow, I doubt very much that her husband trailed her to any academic conferences on her work. Then there were the "Who are you?" looks I would get at the ubiquitous Saturday night banquet, when wives and girlfriends would join us. There I was, no man in tow, actually taking part in the training and talking with their boyfriends and husbands as colleagues. The looks sometimes regarded me as a threat, or dismissed me as a woman who had nothing better to do than to be involved in this silly stuff, which they tolerated in their men, but considered a distraction from precious family time.

At the gasshuku, the women ranged from relative beginners to teachers in other art forms with varying degrees of experience in this one. The youngest person was about 14 and the eldest in her 80's someplace. Some had intimate connections to the male attendees (daughter, wife, girlfriend) but others did not. In a typical setup for budo, we were in a mixed group - young, old, different sizes, male and female, and we rotated down the line, trying the various kata with people of all sizes and relative strengths. It has been said before, but weapons are great equalizers. There was no nonsense of a tiny person somehow taking out someone large enough to simply pick her up and carry her over his shoulder. A sharp-bladed sickle, or a sword, in the hands of a small person forces the respect of her partner no matter his size.

It was not all awesomeness, however. One student with more experience suggested to a male participant a way in which he could improve his kamae and was rebuffed. She immediately retreated to a "Well, I could be wrong, I suppose, but that's how I do it," position. I have watched this young woman at events like this, since she started. Unlike myself, who has limited access to qualified teachers, she has had the benefit of twice-weekly training with well-qualified people. She has developed enviable abilities in a three-year time period. I had to step in. "Don't say that," I said. "I usually say, 'I do it like this, and no one has yet told me I'm wrong.'" (Translation: I'm right.) Women are bringing up the number of participants at last. It's really important, now that we are here, that we don't sell ourselves short.