I have just spent a weekend attending a small seminar with Toby Threadgill, the Kaicho (head of the school) of Takamura-ha Shindo Yoshin Ryu. As I only started training in February this year, it is the first time I had meet this man in person. I had viewed some video footage of Toby prior to the seminar and heard accounts by other members of our group as to what to expect. However, actually meeting and training with the head of our school was an exciting and eye-opening experience.
Training began on Friday evening and was open to the wider martial arts community. I was honoured to have my aikido instructor attend as one of those outside the normal training group. All other attendees had a background in aikido, karate or jujutsu. Some people had flown in from Australia. The theme was internal strength and Toby took us through some of the conditioning exercises that help align and build the body. He then asked us to partner up and try some pushing exercises that help explore the application of correct structure and internal strength. Now, I have been exposed to these exercises for most of the year, I find them challenging and yet, have noticed how they are affecting my posture and how I generate power. What was really fascinating was when Toby demonstrated applications of this stuff on volunteers. As Toby manipulated and off-balanced people with what appeared to be little or no effort, the look on their faces was priceless. In fact from now on I will call it, ‘the face’. Time and time again he would get people looking at him in disbelief or amazement as they tried to work out how he took them off balance.
We started a full day of training on Saturday at 9am. Some people from the night before were allowed to stay on even though it was a closed session. They had flown from another country after all. The first half of the day was working on our knees practising escapes from holds or strikes. After lunch we switched to kumitachi (paired sword kata), those not from TSYR were split from the rest of us to work on some sword basics while we went through the first two basic sets of sword kata (note, I use the word basic very lightly – these kata have few movements but are hard to get the subtleties of). When Toby wasn’t with the visitors, he was walking among us critiquing and slowly breaking down what we were doing wrong in each kata. At one point he had us all sit down and called me and another member up to demonstrate one kata. He then proceeded to explain how wrong it was. It was a humbling experience but an important one. That night was a BBQ and then into Sunday.
9am start again on Sunday starting with more knee work, we did this until the lunch break. I had an opportunity to take ukemi from my instructor as he showed Toby what he knew of some of the kata. Great fun. The visitors were taught more of the internal strength exercises and applications. After lunch was kumitachi again. This time more advanced sets. For me and some of the others, these sets were unfamiliar and started to tax our mental stamina. By about 4pm some people started to make more mistakes, were tripping and their timing was going. We were getting tired. During this time, of course I got to see ‘the face’ from some of the visitors again. I never tired of it. At one point Toby was showing how he can take a sword from someone’s hands no matter how hard they try to stop him. He systematically let each person have a go and each time he would whip the sword away leaving them with ‘the face’.
Sunday evening involved some official TSYR events and then farewells. I believe that those who came to see us from outside the Kai (school) went away feeling they had been part of some quality budo training. Personally, I met some great people, experienced some amazing things and feel inspired to dive into my own training harder.
Stay tuned for more blogs as I break down the seminar some more.