The Book

The Book
By Kim Taylor 

I have the 2014 version of “The Book” in my hot little hands and I am eagerly waiting for a few minutes during which I can read it. This is of course the English version of the AJKF iai manual. I look forward to knowing all about the changes that have happened since 2009 so I can apply them to all the students who will be learning from me and all those who will be in front of me at a grading. Not that I expect to see any changes, since I’ve been told there have been no changes since the last two kata were added, but maybe some clarifications. Let’s see what I can find on uniform since that has been a big topic of discussion in the past few years. Specifically the arrangement of the juban under the uwagi. This is a big problem in our parts.

Oh, perhaps I am being a bit slow this morning but I see nothing on uniform at all. I’m sure it must be there since all one has to do is read the book and do as it says and one can pass a grading.

Yes?

Perhaps the endless changes that don’t happen, and the endless details of every aspect of practice which aren’t there are a misconception? When we say to students “read the book”, perhaps they are hearing “all the answers are in the book”. Were this true, it would make everyone’s life a lot easier. Since it is not I will give my usual answer to those impressions. The book usually changes to “clarify” points that don’t seem to be clear rather than to show changes in the kata. The kata haven’t changed, the explanations have. As to having all the answers, the book is the base, the minimum of what an iaido student should know and demonstrate if he is doing AJKF iai. We scream “read the book” when students don’t seem to have a clue about basic, basic things, and it’s easier to tell them to read rather than to repeat something we’ve said hundreds of times before.

Actually I tend to tell teachers to read the book because there aren’t enough books in the world to give one to each student and the students all become jailhouse-lawyers anyway. They find the bit at the back that outlines grading points and they proudly display with great theatricality the points written down. Then they look up and say “pass me, I hit all the points”. I’d rather avoid that discussion altogether.

Teachers make sure their students hit all the points in the book, and students do what their teachers say and all is good. Providing all the teachers who sit on the grading panel agree with each other. Well that’s the book isn’t it? What’s in the book is what we agree on. What’s not in the book is up to interpretation, but please, only a minimum interpretation. You can’t add an extra strike or three extra steps just because they aren’t in the book. Silly you say, nobody would do that? How about putting in a pause where it emphasizes a checkpoint in the book but makes absolutely horrible sense from a combative point of view?

As I said, I look forward to reading the new book, but I don’t anticipate finding much that will shock me. I’ll take this one as the official standard, combine that with what I’ve been taught, fill in with my experience when needed and pass the result along to my students who will then get as close to what I want as they can. Come grading time we’ll see how many of the judges agree with each other on who meets the minimum for passing and who doesn’t.

The Uniform? Maybe it really isn’t in the book, maybe that’s something that I picked up at some seminar or other, or perhaps during my student days when sensei told me how to wear the uniform. One thing that I have learned very well is that as long as there is a dress code (written or unwritten) that says I don’t have to wear a juban under my uwagi, I will not be wearing a juban. When that code does come in, I suspect I will still be allowed to wear a kendogi (no juban) and I will wear that to avoid the rather easy fail point of having my juban out of place. I advise my students to do the same because I very much dislike failing students for an undershirt out of place. It’s too easy and the life of a judge ought not to be easy.

Make it hard, read the book.

Kim Taylor
June 30, 2014

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