Boise! Boise! Boise! I've been there before on work-related trips, where I was able to enjoy training with the local clubs, but nothing in this capacity before. This past weekend Boise played host to the 2016 US Nito Seminar, a yearly weekend-long seminar dedicated to the pursuit and practice of the unique two-sword style of kendo. I was lucky enough to be able to participate this year and it was an experience that I will carry with me throughout the rest of my training life.
This year there were over 80 participants hailing from all over the US and Canada, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Japan, Italy and Malaysia (and a host of others I may have missed)! We all gathered together at the Boise State University campus to participate in this 3-day long seminar, which provided plenty of lecture, practice, keiko and even a bit of shiai at the end. I had never done nito before and I played with the idea of practicing it before I went, but decided against it. This year we would have not just one, but two 8-dan sensei, both of which passed their test using nito. The only two in the world to do so! Joining them were three other 7-dan sensei as well as a 6-dan sensei. They were all strong beyond belief and it was a pleasure watching their kendo in action as much as it was to be on the receiving end of their strikes!
The first day we all broke the ice with a bit of morning keiko. I was able to practice with some old friends, familiar faces and some totally brand new to me people. I enjoyed each session and it made me hungry for the rest of the weekend to come. We only went for about an hour before a short lunch break and the proper beginning to our weekend. While sitting in one of the campus theaters we were treated to talks from Toda Sensei about kendo, itto (one sword), nito (two swords) and how they are one and the same. Fujii Sensei (8-dan) then treated us to a showing of his test and gave his thoughts on the test and leading up to it. After this we all went back to the main gym for some practice on some fundamental footwork and body movements from Sasaki Sensei (7-dan), as well as some basics on how to hold the two swords and how to strike properly. After practicing this for a while we ended out the day with a keiko demonstration from the 6- and 7-dan sensei before they opened it up for the rest of us to keiko with the visiting guests. I was able to jump in with Fujii and Ugajin Sensei before our time ran out. Fujii was very intense and so fast, but let me try and find that correct moment to strike and was gracious enough to let me hit him a few times. Ugajin brought on the intensity and beat me up, but I learned a lot from him, as well.
Saturday started much earlier and was led by Fujii Sensei and Sato Sensei, who again went over some of the strikes and what to do with the shoto (short sword). He showed us how to use it to pressure correctly before striking. The afternoon session was led mainly by Toda Sensei himself, whose main focus (from what I remember) was on seme and using it to create a conversation with each person. He made it clear that we shouldn't rush or skip this conversation. He also pointed out that we should work to "lead" the conversation and that we should all try and only strike when we have the absolute best moment to do so. It was very enlightening and doing the seme drills were mentally exhausting even for the short amount of time that we did them. Again we ended out the day by forming lines with the visiting sensei for jigeiko. This time around I was able to train with Sato Sensei and Harris Sensei, from Hawai. Sato was so powerful. I'd seen him fighting some of the others and he was so quick and strong that I knew I had no chance. Luckily he took it down just enough to keep me reaching for that level, and let me get in a couple of hits before letting me go. Harris Sensei was also a lot of fun to train with, even if he did run me around the room. He again emphasized taking the lead during the seme "conversation" and not letting him run me around like he did. I'll definitely have to work on that but he did give me some points to consider for my own training.
Sunday was the last day and after warmups and a little bit of practice with the sensei we were grouped into teams for the upcoming shiai matches. The format was much the same as the previous years. Each team would fight two matches so each person could fight once using itto and once using nito. The team that did the best on each court would then face each other in a final match. We had people from our team of various ranks and locations. Everywhere from UW in Seattle to Chile were represented on our team. Our first matches were done using itto and I (somehow) was grouped up against one of my dojo members for my first match. We both fought hard and did our best but the match was ultimately a tie. It was sure entertaining, though! Overall our team won the match by one win over the other team. Our second match consisted of us fighting in nito and even though we didn't do as well we put up a good fight. My match was against a 4-dan from Michigan and, surprisingly, I won! I was able to score two men uchi. Even though I gave up a kote to my opponent I fought as well as I could for someone that had just picked up nito and came out on top. Unfortunately it wasn't enough to send our team to the finals, but honestly we all had a ton of fun and came out all smiles and high fives anyway. The final match was 3vs3 and it was nice to see that one of my dojo mates was on the team that was in the finals and eventually won.
Toda Sensei ended the seminar with a few words of encouragement for us, saying that he was glad to see nito gaining popularity and strength here and that he believes this will be the hot bed for the future of nito. With their guidance and teaching I'm sure he's right! This seminar had a bit of something for everyone, from the absolute beginning student to those yudansha that have been training for decades on end. I know that I gained a lot not just from the seminar proper but also from the side conversations and meetings with various people. I came home with a renewed sense of myself and my kendo and a lot of ideas for myself and for our dojo. I'm not the only one that shared those feelings, either, as it seems like all of my other dojo mates that went had the same thoughts and ideas for our dojo.
So, from someone that had never touched nito before, I'd highly recommend this seminar to anyone that is looking to start nito, refine their nito, or even who is not interested in doing nito at all. The them of the weeekend was "Itto and nito are as one (the same)". To me this says that itto and nito are not two separate entities of kendo, but more like two sides of the same coin. I never was planning on taking up nito full-time but after this weekend I can see the benefits of it for my own kendo and am encouraged to use it to help enrich my own understanding of this martial art. So even though I still don't plan on switching permanently to the two-sword style I'll begin to use it and the teachings I received to enrich everything about my kendo.
To anyone reading this, I hope to see you next year! And to all the awesome new friends I made this weekend, I hope to see you AGAIN next year!