Deborah Klens-Bigman, Ph.D. ◆ October 14, 2015
Back in August, several of us decided to beat the NYC heat and travel up north and west to Wisconsin for the 2015 US Jodo Gasshuku. For three days (longer for some) we trained morning, afternoon and evening in jodo, kusarigama and bokuto kumidachi kata that make up the curriculum followed by the Nihon Jodokai. The instructors were the senior American students of the Jodokai and their senpai.
At one point during the jodo training, the teacher had us all perform kata and had us hold our poses from time to time while they inspected the line to look at our form. Jodo is a partner practice, so both sides had to “freeze” in place and then stay still, no matter how uncomfortable the position. The exercise reminded me of my old-fashioned taiji class years ago, when we had to hold a pose in the short form while the teacher corrected us. With over 20 students in the class, we had to hold our poses for as long as 20 minutes before going on. At the jodo seminar too, there were about 15 pairs of people on the floor for this exercise, which meant we also had to stay in place for some time. Unlike taiji class however, those of us on the jo side were very often holding off our partners one way or another. At one point we were doing the Omote form Ukan, and my senpai-opponent was a very big guy who probably had about 100 pounds on me. He was over 6 feet tall. I am 5’2”. I had my jo pushed into his middle at the point of the kata where the jo thrusts into tachi just prior to trapping his sword near the end of the kata. Being a senpai, he was leaning on my jo to test my mettle, and he increased the pressure when the instructor made the same suggestion. So this large person was leaning on my jo, yet I was able to hold him off while the instructor walked down the line and checked every pair of participants, for about 20 minutes. How could I do that? Structure.
For my purposes I am thinking of structure as a strategic alignment of bones and joints. After two days of practice, I had become fairly adept at finding the proper alignment for this position, and the proof was in being able to hold off my much larger colleague. Good structure started with my feet, which were pointed at him, and not in or outward. My knees were over my feet, and bent, resembling a horse stance. I was holding the jo centered and low, and my hips were squared to my partner also. My shoulders were relaxed. I do not have the physical strength to hold off an opponent of this size, so my structure did it for me.
Another example of structure in jodo – one that seems counter-intuitive – is the crook of the wrist in gyakute no kamae. I can say from personal experience that this bend of the wrist of the uppermost hand on the jo seems totally weird and is difficult even for some more experienced jodoka to take automatically. Our tendency is to line up the wrist with the hand and forearm, but this position is structurally weak in jodo. My teachers used to demonstrate this by allowing students to take their intuitive position of lining up the hand, wrist and forearm, and then showing them how easily the jo could be wriggled while they held it that way. The instructor then would have the student crook the wrist, showing how much more rigid that hand position makes the jo. I took a little time to analyze the feel of this kamae, and noticed that the finger bones are lined up with the wrist sort of cocked over them. The subsequent position of the forearm prevents the elbow from moving as well, resulting in a strong kamae.
Structure does have its limits, however. After holding my partner off during the stop-motion exercise, my thigh muscles felt like rubber for the rest of the day. But that was okay. My structure worked when it counted.
Iaido class: http://resobox.com/iaido/
Jodo class: http://resobox.com/jo-do/