Apologies for being so quiet lately. I thought that I’d share this little blog post examining sayabiki (the pulling back of the scabbard with the left hand to draw the Japanese katana with the right hand) from the physicist’s perspective of conservation of angular momentum:
This is an interesting point, although I think that it is more relevant to, say, the dynamics of a throw in Aikidō than drawing the sword in Iaidō. While I don’t doubt that using sayabiki to exploit the conservation of angular momentum does allow a more powerful draw, I think that the primary reason for sayabiki is simple mechanics: if one does not retract the scabbard, then the sword will not come cleanly out of the scabbard mouth — if the sword comes out at all, then its cutting tip will damage the scabbard and indeed the Iaidōka’s hand!
Over the last week or so, as my recovery from last month’s knee surgery has continued, I’ve been making use of one of my “dormant” martial arts to aid my healing and re-conditioning process: taijiquan. The slow, controlled movements are ideal for my still-weak knee: nothing too dramatic or demanding, but it’s easy to turn up the difficulty by small degrees simply by doing the movements slightly lower to the ground — and, by goodness, does that work and strengthen the legs nicely!
I studied Taijiquan for two years as an undergraduate student. At the time, I was practising Taijiquan more than Aikidō, and hadn’t even encountered Iaidō yet; things changed after the fellow university student who led the Taijiquan classes graduated and left the university. Even so, Taijiquan left its imprint upon me. Also, with increasing experience in other martial arts, I feel the martial and conditioning content of Taijiquan more and more strongly. Right now, it’s the conditioning aspect that I’m making most use of. However, it’s also ever clearer to me that Taijiquan is an excellent example of things not being what they appear to be on the surface: as soft and fluffy as it may appear to be, Taijiquan is in fact a tremendously strong and strengthening martial practice, something that I have long known but now increasingly feel.
Sarah Mayer was the first non-japanese woman in the world to be awarded black belt rank in Kodokan Judo, an achievement that made the headlines of The Japanese Times on 1 March 1935. During her two-year stay in Japan, she wrote several letters home to Gunji Koizumi, Founder of the Budokwai dojo in London where she had begun her training. These reproductions of the letters are well worth reading as memoirs of martial arts practice in Japan in the inter-war period, especially for someone who would have stood out from the vast majority of practitioners in two ways, as a woman and as a gaijin (non-Japanese). They are written with a wonderfully understated dry English wit, perhaps exemplified by the passage
[A] strapping young man of 5th Dan had been called in to practice with me. For awhile we pranced around and he let me throw him about a bit and dropped me fairly gently on the mat and then the Professor said something to him and he threw me all over the place, and not content with throwing me, he gave me that extra push when I was on my way down that makes the floor come up quicker than usual. […] I was beginning to think that it was too much of a good thing and to wonder how best I might escape from his clutches without letting down the British Empire by asking him to be a bit less rough with me, when it occurred to me that although I was being thrown with some violence, I had not yet hurt myself, so I decided that it would be better to wait until I died before I complained.
A bit of dialogue that rings in my head a lot, from the movie Crimson Tide:
Ramsey: At the Naval War College it was metallurgy and nuclear reactors, not Nineteenth Century philosophy. “War is a continuation of politics by other means.” Von Clausewitz.
Hunter: I think, sir, that what he was actually trying to say was a little more —
Ramsey: Complicated? [Men laughing]
Hunter: Yes, the purpose of war is to serve a political end, but the true nature of war is to serve itself.
Ramsey: [Laughing] I’m very impressed. In other words, the sailor most likely to win the war is the one most willing to part company with the politicians and ignore everything except the destruction of the enemy. You’d agree with that?
Hunter: I’d agree that, um, that’s what Clausewitz was trying to say.
Ramsey: But you wouldn’t agree with it?
Hunter: No, sir, I do not. No, I just think that in the nuclear world the true enemy can’t be destroyed.
Ramsey: [Chuckling, tapping glass] Attention on deck. Von Clausewitz will now tell us exactly who the real enemy is. [Laughing] Von? [Men laughing]
Hunter: In my humble opinion… in the nuclear world… the true enemy is war itself.
On Monday, I underwent a surgical procedure (a bursectomy) to try to correct my long-standing knee problem (chronic prepatellar bursitis). As for the recovery, so far, so good. The key factor determining my long term recovery of function will be how well the wound closes (no little gaps or bubbles = very good).
Of course, as with any surgical intervention, there’s some post-operative pain. What strikes me very strongly is that when the pain hits, experiences like Zen meditation and taking ukemi are of great practical value: being able to relax, to acknowledge pain and discomfort without suffering and allowing them to become all-consuming, and above all to keep some semblance of good humour through it all — these things are really, really useful.
A rather nice video of ukemi exercises and variations featuring Piotr Masztalerz, 5th Dan Shidoin, Chief Instructor of Wrocław Aikikai: