Tag Archives: iaido

Good things that make the day

Okay so today has sucked in some ways, didn’t get a chance to make lunch in time so had to buy it (my own fault), spent the day looking at random too small office furniture (srsly our office piled about a desks worth of crap on it and it was overflowing, we can’t use them) and lots of small jobs.

Got home to find that there was a bit of glass in my boot that has stuck a hole in my big toe before quietly hiding in the corner of my boot being well behaved, so had to bind up my toe with a plaster to keep it intacted.

However this was all made up for by the fineness of doing iaido. Everything seemed to flow, there were mistakes, but their causes were spotted and fixed, balance seemed okay, relaxing a bit more seemed okay, the cuts went to shit a bit, but mostly they were okay. Its one of those fun activities where everything just flows right that reminds you how fine a day can be.

And its followed by slightly spicey sausage sarnies on fresh bread. Omnomnom

OMG! MLP! Burn it!

Burn more incense
Quoting from converts, and the Book of the Law
Compare and contrast with skulls
One for Stephen Alzis

In short OMG updated with about a months worth of strips. Also my legs hurt as I’ve just spent 2 hours at iaido trying to relax and do things naturally.

Also BoingBoing has linked to Its just a plant, an educational book for children about dope.

Sword ban, final version (allegedly)

The To-Ken society of Great Britain have got a document posted which is the proposed amendment to the offensive weapons act 1988.

It seems that they’re banning any curved sword 50cm or longer, you’ll be able to import/buy/sell/loan/trade/lend/transport (I think all them, I need to re-read the original act) provided that one of the following is true:

  1. It was made in Japan before 1954
  2. It was made in Japan later than 1954 and is traditionally forged
  3. You are using it in relation to the organisation or holding of an allowed event, which includes:
    1. “historical re-enactment” which is re-enacting an event of the past or illustrating conduct from a particular time and place in the past
    2. “sporting activity” means the practicing of a sport which requires such a weapon

So it looks like collectors are going to be faffed about (unless they start buying pricey properly forged blades from Japan) they’ll need to take up some form of re-enactment, martial art or putting on of informative museum style displays to keep buying regular blades if I’m reading this right (ignore my summary, read the actual thing).

Anyone know if its legal under EU laws to restrict the supply of an item like that? I mean valid Japanese-style blades are produced in the UK, Europe, China and America from memory, can they really just ban them all and establish a monopoly on Japanese blades?

Its an interesting one as AFAIK getting a blade into Japan is a several day paperchase nightmare, so its not like you could bounce bare blades through there for fittings and claim they were “made” there.

He enjoys sitting

Well recently suggested that in fact sitting was one of my hobbies, and while I realise it was in jest (and I did indeed giggle) the comment conceals one of the ways I’m currently interested in looking at the world. In that most of the time we just work out how to get something done basically and never really return to look at the area properly.

Since I’m not particularly great at anything I do (although I think I’m pretty good at many things) I’ve found solice in the materials written by those who are and am attempting to absorb their material for my benefit (i.e. learnin’). Now one of the threads that I keep coming back to is that of the fundamentals.

Now its not that I enjoy studying samey basic materials over and over again, its that a truly good treatment of a subject must start by addressing the very basic things from which that subject is built, and it takes a truly lucid and deep understanding of something before those fundamentals are truly absorbed in to the self and can be communicated clearly. Every time you read a description of something fundamental from another experienced and valid point of view you pick up at least a new way of thinking about it, which may help things click with you and help your own practice.

In my opinion truly mastering a subject or improving at it beyond a certain point requires at least cursory study of the fundamentals of what goes into building it.

For example (and I realise I’m banging a drum about this but it interests me) my iaido is especially fascinating to me because never really been physically fit, so to move through the first 11 training forms (which are the ones I can say I “know” in at least a rough way) I’ve had to start to learn all kinds of things from that groups point of view. Posture, sitting, standing, stepping, breathing, these are the basic things (you also get to do cutting, which in itself is an elegant system) but even these can be broken down. The fundamentals of shifting weight, of tensing and untensing certain muscles, of balance and body position. And this has come back to help the rest of my life. My posture has improved in other places, I’m fitter, I’d like to think my movements are a little more graceful and I’m less likely to trip over my shoes now.

The book that initially got me thinking about this is Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go, a truly excellent text by Kageyama Toshiro, in this the very basic building blocks of a truly well played game are discussed and outlined, the connections between moves, the natural way things should flow into each other, basic strategies like nets and ladders and a number of other topics. Now I knew of most of these things before I picked up the book, but I didn’t really stop to think about it, and mostly played on instinct. My game has deteriorated through lack of practice but I’ve enjoyed starting to get it back on track with books like this, thinking about the very basic things and coming back to them again and again to ponder how they influence the more complex behaviours.

At an earlier point in my life I studied the work of Constantin Stanislavski, specifically briefly going through (most of, I was lazy) his excellent work An Actor Prepares, which is essentially Stanislavski going back to the fundamental building blocks of acting, how to construct the mental and physical notions of character within yourself, how to break up and study texts, searching for motives, how to stir yourself to various emotions, how to condition yourself to be able to use your imagination to tie it all together in a moving performance.

I feel this also plays a part in a number of interesting occult systems I’ve looked at (even so briefly) over recent year, I feel in some ways the enduring attractiveness of a lot of the Hermetic or Egyptian work is that it is essentially the fundamentals of the later more baroque schools of thought. But also the later stuff in a way holds similar goals, the GD (although in many ways very complex) I always get the impression sought a return to the fundamentals, by attempting to create a massive syncratic union of everything into Kabbalah and Tarot they sought to understand the fundamental things that were the building blocks of other systems and the world. Austin Osman Spare I always get the impression was motivated by this. While he’d go away and learn in other peoples systems he was truly looking at the fundamentals and constructing his own way (not always the best route, theres a lot to be said for really trying to grok a system of anything, but its true at some point you should try to do your own thing). In many ways the current final child of the old guard of Magic is the Chaos Magicians who are again I think looking into what the real fundamentals of humans and the world are and how you can tweak them for the most benefit.

In a similar vein are the Runes in a way, since they are at heart a mystery or a secret they describe the fundamental states of the world and inside that our lives and minds. I feel the study of Runes is again the study of fundamentals, in that although they can be represented as staves, sounds, numbers, letters, concepts, names, postures… but all some attempt to represent something truly underpinning the world.

I’ve also looked at this with roleplaying (and I believe and have recently been posting on this topic). What are the fundamentals of roleplaying? How to get people involved, to help them have fun, to explore characters motivations and actions, to play types of people they never get the chance to in real-life, to make them experience (at least in some way) a number of feelings they’d rarely get the chance too otherwise. My well known long running Kult campaign is in many ways a series of experiments on this front. Do we need dice? Character sheets? How can we generate an atmosphere? Do props help or distract? What kinds of lighting and music can help build atmosphere? What kills it? How best to pace a game? Can you run combat without getting bogged down? How to make players care for their characters? Is a “party” structure really necessary or just useful? How much direction does the game need, how much free reign do the players need? What kind of game do these players want to play? What kind of story do I want to help them tell?

In my own day-to-day profession I’ve also found that this sort of study is apparent. Again and again we see this outlined in many ways, the same building blocks are reused again and again. Breaking algorithms up into subroutines or functions, breaking code out into libraries, treating communication between programs as very simple streams (TCP sockets anyone?) and holding all of this up the concept of abstraction. We abstract to make things faster to develop, easier to modify and in many ways better to use and run, we abstract to make things simpler so we can make our computers do even more complex things, we abstract away from the fact that every current computer is at its heart a limited turing machine glued to a metronome.

Programmers relentlessly train themselves into the habits of efficiency, of doing things once and once only, and only then if really pushed. Always looking for ways make things cheaper and faster but always the idea that things must be robust hanging over us, if an algorithm has too many shortcuts, too many special cases, too many dodgy machine specific hacks it becomes brittle and unportable. In Perl culture its said that the three virtues of a programmer are Laziness, Impatience and Hubris and while I’m not sure I agree totally its interesting to ponder.

Even our user interfaces are built around these concepts, sooner or later every user has to get their hands dirty actually typing commands into a computer (although this is again abstraction), and those of us who enjoy this kind of thing get hooked on it, simple commands that can be held conceptually inside the mind join simply together with pipelines, and we again return to efficiency, abstraction and simplicity.

“When the Patriarch McIlroy invented the pipe, he knew that it would transform software, but did not know that it would transform mind.”
The Rootless Root

When programmers I know write code (and indeed write anything) they really have three choices. They do it in vim, they do it in Emacs or they use some piss poor tool that makes Baby RMS cry. They use concrete implementations of the platonic ideal of these two editors (okay originally they was ed and teco) because they were created, nay accreted over time in environments where people really really wanted to edit text. Vim is in many ways I feel the more simple, the more fundamental, the cleaner of the two ideals. Whats that? You want to move forward 2 paragraphs and three sentences? 2}3) and thats it. You remember typing some section title starting with the word “Good”? /^good and then hit ‘n’ until you find it. Emacs, whilst fun, is really more an entire environment in which the fundamentals of manipulating text are laid bare before your eyes, and hence you can do your own crazy thing should you wish.

Our Internet is also based on these principles, abstraction, efficiency and simplicity. It also looks towards that of independence, as given away by the name. Its an Inter-Network, a joining together of various independent autonomous systems to create a greater whole and pass information about, but at its heart its clearly very independent.

Just look at how email works for example (although those with a nervous disposition may wish to look away and pretend email isn’t foul) its a giant system for passing basically unformatted text files around, these days the text files are optionally formatted, but the actual mail transports don’t care. And look at the protocol, its simple (well it got more complex, the original is like 12 pages), so simple it can be typed by hand. Sure it would be more efficient to have it all squashed down and compressed into binary code but frankly its nice to be able to simply write or debug something with just telnet. Sure it would probably be more efficient in some ways to have some kind of big post-office like system and punt things around like that, but Email is built upon the idea that “When mails going between systems on the net we do SMTP, what you do to deliver it, read it or write it on your system is none of my business, just don’t expect me to do things your way.”

This is best summed up I feel by a wonderful checklist I’ve seen in a few places on Usenet and also sometimes on Slashdot about antispam ideas, essentially it includes things like “Your idea requires spammers to play nice”, “Why should I trust your system?” and other simple problems.

Efficiency, abstraction, simplicity, robustness, independence. These are just some of the fundamentals of computing, I’m sure in my rant I’ve missed a lot out.

Anyway the point of all of this was to attempt to discuss why I think the fundamental parts of activities require pondering and in some cases deep study before a subject will start to make real sense, so ask yourself:

How am I sitting, is it comfortable, is it good for my body?

How am I reading this text? Am I staring too long, will that be good for my eyes? How am I taking this information in? Can I recall it all? Should I take notes? How to take the notes? How to arrange them, format them, link them to the original text or other thoughts in my mind?

When I’m writing what are the fundamentals of that craft? The paragraph? The sentence? The word? How do I get my point across? How do I tell the story? What kind of structure should I use for my work? How to break things up? If its typed hows my typing? Should I take a course in touch typing? Is the light and desk the right height? How will it appear to the end reader? What control do I have on that formatting, should I use it? If its hand-written hows it organised? Can I correct mistakes? Is the actual motion of my pen making just text or is it writing as an art? Is that needed here? Is this a scribble or am I writing something important?

What about food, what are the fundamentals behind preparing food? Selecting ingredients, blending flavours, physically slicing or chopping items (and what about that? The best way to handle a knife, the best kind of blade for the kind of object), and what about eating food? Best place to be? (do you want a view? Do you want to sit? Stand? Sprawl?), methods of cutting food? Blending tastes from the meal on your palate? Drinks to go with it?

I recall a story of a zen master who looked particularly smug after eating something, and when asked about it said that this was because he was full. When it was pointed out everyone else had eaten as much as him he declared this to be false, his reasoning was that when he was eating that was all he was doing. Just eating, and savouring that. Everyone else was thinking about things, shifting themselves about in their seats, looking about and chatting.

What are the fundamentals of communication and polite conversation? When I was younger I watched a few small children interacting. One of them about 5 years old taught me the fundamentals of polite conversation (which I often forget to follow). In that: (a) You are not the centre of the world, (b) Conversation flows and forks naturally, don’t drag it too hard or it’ll jump the rails and crash and (c) Wait your turn to say something if you feel you have a valid point, if the conversation drifts away before you do then let it go, at some point in the future you may get a chance to say your bit, but does it really matter?

Now note that this is just about polite chatter and enjoyable social conversation, these rules don’t hold for meetings or any situation where it might be important that people know the information.

“If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use
a pile driver.”
— Anonymous.

Next time your climbing a tree think of this, what are the fundamentals of climbing? How does one lift ones self with the arms, or even with the legs? How many limbs should be on the tree at once, what kind of grips are needed? How do you judge the weight a branch will take? Where should your weight be positioned, resting on which limbs? If you fall how should you try and land? How best to try and catch yourself and stop the motion?

Everything from filing to swimming to walking and breathing have fundamentals, a lot of them overlap and most are useful to know, improving many parts of your life, just a matter of working out which to study then thinking and testing, fascinating work :)

Educational information and a worrying observation about our times

Well just a quick waffle before I head lunchwards, I come bearing essential information for those of planet urrth: When someone is swinging a sword at you you should be drawing your own to block it! Luckily said person was being much more awake than I was (I was drawing late! More left hand, more left hand) and thus only tapped me on the calf before declaring they were going to put another notch in their bokken for hitting a student with it :)

Anyway more interestingly on the bus home I saw an interesting site, some young kid, obviously knackered was getting on the bus after me with a bike. He negociated with the bus-driver on this front and seemed to be told that this was fine, provided he stored it out the way in the pram/wheelchair/whatever space (double deckers from Stage Coach have these).

He slumped into the chair and vaguely got his bike arranged, front wheel by the window next to him, back wheel out in the aisle. The driver asked him to get the wheel in, and he looked at the front wheel and pushed it further into the side of the bus by the window, leaving the back wheel hanging out.

At this point an old man, 70 if he was a day stood up on a moving bus, stepped over, picked up the whole bike and arranged it so it was out of the way.

Hmm… me thinks I see a problem if the youth of my generation (or perhaps the next, I’m never sure where the boundaries for these things are) can’t grok “Shifting stuff out of the way” and need to have it demonstrated for them by an old white-haired geezer.

In other news it would seem that Eris is beyond Yuggoth! A great victory for the farces of something or other.

Suprising cold and sweaty palms

Well a brief update. Still no joy on the house front on the basis that it apparently takes three days (and counting!) for the department to produce a letter proving I actually work for them, so still need to get that tomorrow then get the paperwork into the letting agents and wait for them to give me an answer (may take up to another week).

However on the fun-things front I’ve had quite a good week (well outside of reading up on a fair chunk of boring stuff). The game yesterday featured a wonderful bout of atmosphere, the players really got going and roleplayed it to the hilt to give us all a good-horrible experience (Kult sideplot-to-the-mainplot-kinda game for those interestered), I especially enjoyed Ed’s reaction (since I’ve not been in a game with him before) and it was clearly shit-on-Ed-week, luckily he took it like a man :)

And tonight I was off sword waggling as ever, we had some changes propogated down to us from the Dans tonight (the information propogation system seems to be: The Japanese Dans at the head of the organisation decide something, in the summer they teach it to the visiting Dans from the rest of the world, during the year those Dans pass it onto us mere-mortals, then next year the visiting Dans get taught more subtle changes) involving Chiburi (cleaning the sword) and Noto (putting it away) as well as a number of changes to the *rei’s (opening/closing bows).

During this I was sat there watching/listening and wondering why my feet hurt so much sitting in seiza this evening, it was only when I got home that I realised it was colder than I thought and my feet had subtly frozen slowly over the evening.

Still we did some fun and games today, and learnt two new warm-up exercise for the contact-kata (TUNK).

The first involving stepping back calmly out of the way of an oncoming bokken enough that it misses, but not moving before it starts to. Now this is actually surprisingly good for getting the fight/flight reaction going and thus my palms were reasonably sweaty, not quite sure if this is because fo the risk of clubbing someone about the head or being clubbed about the head. It got more fun once we started varying the timing of the swings, and indeed once I did bottle it and jumped back instead of just stepping back, it just happened automatically, an interesting experience I must say, got a good laugh out of both of us involved :)

The second was more fun once the first had warmed you up, stepping back from the swings of the bokken (fairly slow, but still) juuuuuust enough so that it missed you, so that over two swings the gap between you shortened, then on the third swing bringing the sword up to block (missing not advised) a blow aimed for jodan (head height). Went quite well as the attacker and the attackee, but requires a good deal of trust between the parties and confidence in yourself (both still coming).

Anyway thats quite enough pollution of the friends page, time I think for some kip.