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Demonstrations Houston Japan Festival News

2014 Houston Japan Festival – A long and rambling post

This year the Martial Arts demonstrations were chaired by Mark Lipsinic Sensei, who also heads the Yurusu Aikido of Houston Dojo (Nishio-ryu Aikido & Aiki Toho Iaido). He did a great job coordinating with everyone and making sure we had good facilities. Everything went very smoothly.

As was the case last year, the stage was shaded with a high canopy. This is a huge help to the demonstrators who can focus on what they’re doing instead of avoiding the blistering hot sections of the stage. The stage itself was also a bit bigger. This made backing away during paired waza a little easier. One year, in a different group, some folks backing away almost stepped off the edge of the stage. We learned from watching that to be very mindful of the space and to feel for the edge with our feet. The only down side was the surface of the stage was rather dirty and splintery, but that was covered by mats the whole time. The mat created their own problem though, as my feet adjusted to the soft surface in the middle of the demo, but at least I didn’t have to worry about damaging a formal hakama.

The thank-you from the festival this year took the shape of free bottles of water (always welcome!), some food/drink tickets, and an attractive J Fest bandana. Thank you Japan Festival and Lipsinic Sensei!

We were lucky with the weather this year. Both days were warm and mostly dry. Unlike most other Japan festivals that I have been to over the years, the Houston event is an entirely outdoor event held in Hermann Park near the Museum District. Only the tea ceremony demonstrations are held indoors inside the small tea house in the Japanese Garden.

I think the Japan Festival demo team was at its smallest this year with just Ali, Nemo, and myself. The two new students neither had the clothes nor knew enough to be able to participate. Thank you, Ali and Nemo, for your support on both days. And a big thank you to Houston for video taping our demonstration on Saturday.

There were a LOT of anime otaku, especially cosplayers, at the festival this year. In fact talking with Yōko-sensei at class later that week, she and her friend noted that there seemed to be fewer and fewer ethnic Japanese coming to the festival. I think some people assumed I was cosplaying too judging from the comments thrown my way (ronin?), and the several queries by cosplayers wanting to know where I got my outfit. They were disappointed when I said Osaka (both the wool hakama and the white montsuki were from the Meirin Sangyo main store in Osaka). The hat I had on was a lucky find at a Kansas City Japan Festival years ago. Unfortunately the hat is getting too old and frail to wear it much anymore.

On Saturday I dressed out and got to the site early. There were already people wandering about, so I was not surprised to read later that a new attendance record was reached. After using the only flush toilet on the site inside the Japanese Garden for the first and only time that weekend (constant long line ever after) I decided to stroll about the garden, which I hadn’t done in years. Our demo was not until 1:30, directly after another Iai group, so I had some time. While wandering I happened by the tea house where a few people were lined up for the first tea ceremony of the day. On a whim I decided to get in line. Inside I found myself seated in the middle of the second row, a fair spot for taking photos. Mochizuki-Sensei, the head of the Urasenke School of Tea in Houston, was doing the honors, assisted by her students. Watching her, was great. The centered calm, the un-rushed efficient motions made this one of the most impressive things I saw that weekend. One can understand why the samurai took to tea.

After that I circled through the vendor area, visiting with merchants I knew, before heading to the car to eat lunch. Bringing my own lunch and drink this year turned out to be a good idea which saved me from standing in line and saved a little money. Then it was time to get ready.

Regarding vendors, some of my perennial favorites include the Chiba Sister City booth (this year selling Chiba lapel pins, lotus T-shirts and bags), and my favorite Kyoto vendor, KyooHoo, from who I got an attractive furoshiki and few more tabi socks in large sizes. I was too late to the Japanese flea market booth,– by Sunday they were well picked over.

Every year as this demonstration nears it makes me think about Iaido, especially the intangibles, in order to figure out what to say to get across to people the larger picture of what it is we do and why we do it during the five-minute or so introduction I do at the beginning of our demo. This year I thought about Iaido’s place in the culture that created it, and some of the differences between MJER and other Iai and ken systems. Also thinking of how both the originating culture and the setting in which the Iai is intended to be used could greatly influence the entire system. In particular I had been contemplating the differences between our MJER and a more recent system that was developed for a very different setting than Edo-era Japan. So this year my what-is-Iaido talk with the audience included the usual explanation of Iaido as Samurai training to always be prepared both mentally and physically, and this time to high light that I pointed out that we did our waza in civilian attire of the time with our sleeves and hakama unbound and untucked, and not wearing armor. I don’t know if what I said helped them to understand, but thinking about it I think has helped my personal understanding a little.

Also I had with me a short prepared Japanese script that my Nihongo Sensei wrote for me years ago just for this demo. After we were introduced I proceeded to follow this until I noticed that my Nihongo teacher was not in the crowd as she usually was on Saturday. At this point I got impatient to get to the what-is-iaido section of the talk that I had thought so much about and abandoned the script 3/4 of the way in. Later it turned out she was there, but had to step away to answer a phone call. I resolved to do better tomorrow.

After the opening reishiki, since there were only three of us we did embu all at the same time, but finished at different times due to the number and type of waza each person did. When all had completed, Nemo sat at the back while Ali and I retrieved our bokutō and proceeded to do Tachi Uchi No Kurai including the formal opening and closing reishiki. As usual the Saturday demo had a few hiccups which were smoothed out the next day. Then we all did closing reishiki. There was some extra time and I attempted to elicit some questions from the audience, but no one had any so we exited to allow the next group on.

Every year there are interesting comments from folks who come up after the demo. This year there was a nice gentleman from Austin, a Sekiguchi MJER person, who thanked us for the ‘seminar’! In the past sometimes students of the language have questions about my choice of words. And then there was the person last year whose ‘helpful suggestion’ testified that they didn’t understand what we were doing or why.

A new thing happened this year. A Ph D. Student of the Department of Anthropology at Texas A&M asked for an interview. As I recall he was interviewing folks who did koryu for a research project related to his graduate studies. We settled down at one of the vacant tables by the path and proceeded. He asked a lot of interesting questions that really got me going, stirring up as it did a lot of mental sediment that had been dormant for years. I talked for what seemed like hours, and could have gone on for longer. He confided afterwards that he was planning to go back to Japan after school to resume his own koryu path, begun during his time in Japan teaching English. I wish him all the best.

On Sunday I arrived early and went on another stroll in the garden. Then there was a little time to shop before heading back to the MA stage to catch the Shin Shin Ryu demo. From the front row I filmed about four minutes, took some photos then just sat and watched. After their demo I was chatting with them when they invited me to a group photo shoot in the garden. One of their own was there that day, but not dressed out so he did the photo of us all, then I volunteered to do one of all of them including camera man. By then it was time to head back to get ready for our own demo.

After the introduction, I started in on the prepared speech and made the mistake of scrutinizing the audience. The reader may recall the comment from above about the dwindling attendance by ethnic Japanese to the festival. This was also very noticeable at the MA stage. So I looked out, didn’t see my Nihongo Sensei (who is normally not there on Sunday), saw only round eyes, asked myself what the point was to doing this English/Japanese speech, and decided on the spot to skip it. I found out later that Yōko-Sensei was there that day too! I felt very bad.

After the demo I sat at the table by the path, provided by the MA chairman for demonstrators to provide a static display, have cards/pamphlets to hand out, and answer any questions by festival passersby. I had brought my nicer silk brocade sword bags to lay out on the table as an eye-catching display. Some thought they were obi. I was able to watch a little bit of the demonstrations as I handed out schedules, and answered questions from passersby.

When the weather threatened to rain, I changed clothes, made one more circuit to spend the remaining food tickets, then headed to the car and home.

Thanks to the following we had lots of photos and a video of our demonstration this year.

Yōko Tonu, Nihongo Sensei
MineralBlu, photographer friend of Ali
Houston Porterfield of Clear Lake Iaido
Travis Boardman of Shin Shin Ryu

For a small sample of the photos please look in the photo galleries elsewhere on this site for the 2014 Houston Japan Festival album.
Also, later I plan to add a link to the video once I get it hosted somewhere.



Visit to Baton Rouge

Yesterday (2014 Jan. 27, Mon.) I got back from a weekend trip to Baton Rouge for Iaido training.  John Ray Sensei flew down on Saturday morning and conducted training at Neil Melancon Sensei’s dojo that day and on Sunday.  In addition to the local students, Jon Pearson Sensei and some of his students from the Ruston dojo in North Louisiana were also there.  I was the only one from Clear Lake dojo who could attend.   Jon Andresen Sensei in San Antonio could not attend.

Due to the ice storm that had shut down I-10 over the Atchafalaya all day Friday and on into Saturday morning until it was warm enough to melt the ice, I was unavoidably delayed by traffic and taking an alternate route.  So I was late joining in on the Saturday practice.  They had done BattōHō & TōHō by the time I joined them for Seiza no Bu.  Also at this practice Sensei decided, with Neil Sensei’s recommendation, that it was time that the Ruston group should be considered as a dojo and not a study group.  Congratulations to Jon Pearson Sensei and his students.

Afterwards we went out to eat at a first-rate Asian buffet and had a good time visiting.  Sensei and I stayed at Neil & Sherry’s house that weekend and enjoyed their hospitality.

The next morning we rose early to have a big breakfast of beignets and hot tea/coffee at a nearby shop before heading to the dojo.  Practice that day was 10-noonish and started with TōHō as a warm up, then concentrated on Tatehiza with everyone taking turns to demonstrate one of the waza while Sensei made corrections.  During the last part of the practice the class was split in two with John Sensei, Neil Sensei and I working on Iwaza in one corner, and everyone else doing jūkeiko.

During the closing comments of the practice Sensei reminded us of the multi-generational direct transmission way of MJER and the importance of the student/teacher relationship.  Neil Sensei talked about the importance of observing proper formal relationships within a dojo.

We enjoyed a great lunch at an Indian restaurant and afterwards retired to the house to rest a bit before donning hakama again to practice paired waza in the back yard with some of the Ruston folks until we lost the light.  After the practice they left to drive back home.  For dinner that night, since we were all still stuffed from the excellent lunch, we just had a light meal at the house (frozen pizza) and went to bed extra early.

Monday morning we got up very early so I could drop Sensei off at the airport in time to make his 6:30 flight.  Neil Sensei saw us off at the house.  After the airport drop off I continued on my way back home.

Denton News US Embukai US Embukai koshukai

2013 US Iaido Embukai

I arrived in Denton Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 after about 5 uneventful hours on the road. Sensei (Ray) was at home completing his work. After getting my stuff moved into the spare bedroom we went to The Cupboard to have a salad for dinner, look at snacks, and discuss a book. At some point we went to The Dojo which has a new white canvas cover (gift from Nick Lowry of the OK City dojo) and freshly painted green walls. The white canvas covering the dark carpet made the dojo seem much lighter and cleaner. Also there was a sumō ring in the rear half of the dojo. Yes, there is now a sumō school at The Dojo. The ring segments were attached to a separate canvas so the whole thing could be packed away. Back at the house I transferred over to Sensei some iai video files that I had recovered from old Hi-8 camera tapes.

Wednesday morning I went to the dojo to practice my embu waza while Sensei went to a Dr appt. The dojo’s canvas was very smooth, firm, and to my liking. The sumō ring canvas is somewhat rougher. While there I went ahead and moved the banner, sheets, and slippers to the back of my car, intending to either take them to the gym myself or hand them off to Brian Dewey (St Louis, MO), who is in charge of setup this year, or someone else to take. Huff Sensei (Cullowhee, NC) was arriving this day, but John L. was picking him up and taking him to a gun range directly so we would not see him until later in the afternoon. We went out for lunch at the Czen (great Korean restaurant on the UNT campus) and continued to plan and coordinate airport pickups. After lunch we went to the Cupboard to buy a few things then went back to the house to await Huff Sensei’s arrival with John L. He had had a good time at the range. I made tea for everyone while we visited. I think we went down to the dojo that evening to show him the canvas, freshly painted walls and the sumō ring. Afterwards I think we walked to MiCasita for dinner. It was a very long and busy week so even less than a week later the days’ events are already starting to run together.

Thursday morning, while Sensei went to his rescheduled Dr appt followed by a private practice at the dojo with Huff Sensei, I went out to pick up the T-shirts, buy more slippers, get the programs printed, and get gas. Then I went back to the house where I startled the cleaning lady who was not expecting me to walk in. After dropping off the T-shirts, programs, and slippers, I left for the Cupboard for lunch. Sensei called, since they had just finished their practice, and then they both came by to join me for lunch. Then leaving my car in the parking lot we went to Selwyn to get the key. Huff Sensei and I walked down to the gym to check it out, but there was a class in progress so we didn’t go in. Finally after waiting around outside for a while (by the way the weather was really good during the entire week), we walked back toward the admin building to find out from Sensei that they don’t know where the person who has the gym key is and could we please come back tomorrow? I am told that it is always this disorganized every year. Sensei drops me off at the Cupboard lot so we can drive home to prepare for the regular practice that night at The Dojo. At the practice there was Ray Sensei, Huff Sensei, John L., Brian Dewey, Brent Gilliatt, and a few others. Before the practice I was able to hand off the banner, sheets & slippers to Brian Dewey. John Pritchard (Bend, OR) and Eliza Meeker Sensei (Paris, France) arrived partway through the practice, and watched. Practice was mainly jūkeiko followed by an embu. After practice all the sensei and John Pritchard drove to Mazatlan, a TexMex place on University near Nottingham, for dinner. Irey Sensei and his family arrived partway through the meal. Scott & Tram, with their two very well-behaved young boys (3 and 1/2 years old), had driven from their home in Phoenix AZ.

Friday morning, Denise went to the school for the key to the gym so that we could take all the sensei on a field trip to Dallas. After Eliza Sensei arrived, we all piled into my car to go to Jack’s to collect John P & the Irey clan, so we can all go to the Ann & Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Museum (aka The Samurai Collection) with Scott & family following in his car. This museum primarily features lots of armor with a few weapons on display (arrow heads, a Tachi, spear, etc). I think our tour guide, Emily Barnes, learned more from Irey Sensei than he did from her. The museum shop was small, but the catalog books were very reasonably priced at $45 for a large hardback. After the museum we went to the food court at the Dallas H-mart for lunch and ~45 minutes of shopping, before returning to Denton for The Friday evening practice, followed by dinner at Metzler’s BBQ.

At the Friday evening practice Meeker Sensei lead us in BattōHō (BH) 1-7, then Irey Sensei lead us in various Seiza waza, and lastly Ray Sensei lead in TōHō 1-5. Also at the Friday practice I could hand off the T-shirts to Tristan, help the pad-less acquire knee pads, and help those needing new clothing.

On Saturday we had the morning practice, lunch at the Chinese buffet, afternoon practice, then finally the dinner party at Charles’. This year there were four groups: dangai/shodan/nidan, sandan/yondan, godan/rokudan, and renshi. In the renshi group we had the following sensei in this order: Irey, Meeker, Ray, and Huff. What follows is an incomplete recollection of what I think the sensei were trying to teach.

From Irey Sensei: Take care of yourself so you can continue to practice iai into your 90’s & beyond. Do nothing that would limit your ability to do iai later in life. Next he demonstrated and explained the Yamauchi-ha version of yaegaki, which reflects an older way of doing this and is a bit more violent in its movements. We did this waza several times, then did it in our usual way in order to show that the kihon is the same between both versions and that we are capable of switching from one to the other. Also discussed a reason for slight push out at beginning of ochiburi and the importance of the little finger on the tsuka.

From Meeker Sensei: The first half of the session was sitting and learning about how to massage the knees, feet, elbows, forearms and hands, using hands, rollers and hard objects. I had no idea the knuckles on my right hand were so sore. This can help to soften and open up the muscles, allowing them to more fully relax and contract. The second half was on hayanami (Bangai) and how to transfer the momentum directly into furikaburi then down into kirioroshi without stopping. She demonstrated this so well.

From Ray Sensei: He reviewed all the Kaewaza, and the Okutachi waza by extension. This was a much needed review of seldom practiced waza.

From Huff Sensei: He reviewed all of Iwaza with an emphasis on not stopping and maintaining seme. His transition from rear tsuki to kirioroshi is a prime example of this.

Dinner Party at Charles’ was great, featuring as it did Martha’s great TexMex feast. Also this party featured the first time many had seen several new videos such as Hanshi Kaufman’s Iaido Basics (bad Budo gold), as well as several viral videos such as What does the Fox say?, Stonehenge, and others. Also Irey Sensei brought a number of Chinese-made swords for interested folks to check out. A great time was had by all.

Sunday morning everyone warmed up, then everything was set up for the embu such as tables, chairs, programs & water for the sensei, a camera to record, tape place-markers, and the embu procedures were reviewed by those helping to conduct the event. At the appointed time we all assembled for the opening ceremony. The embu itself went smoothly starting with dangai and shodan, and concluding with Huff Sensei. All in all there were about 28 people total who participated. After closing remarks and a round of Banzai, everyone helped to rapidly take down and put away things. All the dojo stuff except for bokutō (kamidana, slippers, banner, photo, and sheets) went back into the back of my car and then, after some quick good-byes to those who had to leave for home directly, back to the house to quickly change and head out for lunch at Babe’s in Sanger (30 miles North of Denton near TX/OK border). Babe’s has great family style dining with an emphasis on chicken entrees. Meeker Sensei and I divided up the left over fried chicken into our leftovers bag. Then back to the house to socialize. As a side note I was also collecting money for Nate Huba in Osaka Japan who had just married his Kyoto girl friend. The money will be sent to him as a wedding gift (money as a wedding gift is typical in Japan).

Early Monday morning Sensei took Huff Sensei to the airport, while I prepared to move to Charles’ house for the night, but since he was busy until 5 PM, I had time to go to the dojo to return all the items (except for the slippers which I took home to clean), and then leisurely walk about the square visiting the used book store, getting a chai latte at the Jupiter House, looking at the other shops on the square, and observing the vetern’s day event on the courthouse grounds. As I relaxed during the walk I became aware of just how tired my legs and lower back were. Back at the house I ate some of the leftover chicken from Babe’s for lunch, and showed sensei the neat books I found in the Japan History section of the used book store. I left a two volume set with him to read. Then we went to Brent’s house in Sanger to pick up Meeker Sensei and drive her to DFW airport. Later, back at the house, the car was loaded and by 5 PM I was on the way to Charles’ house. There I collected the embu video tapes plus more VHS tapes and a DV camera, and got ready to go to Monday practice. We got there early,— Aikido was still going on. Sensei, Charles, John L and myself were the only ones there for iai, so we decided to go to MiCasita for dinner, but once there we decided it would be a much better idea to go to Charles’ instead for the great leftover Saturday party food cooked by Martha, which we did with no regrets. After helping John L. load the outdoor party tables and chairs into his truck we said goodbye.

Tuesday morning I drove home from Charles’, leaving a little before 10AM and arriving a little after 4PM, making a total of five stops along the way, including the museum we visited on Friday to exchange the French version of the museum book I accidentally bought for an English version. The usual stops were the Ennis Starbucks (exit 251B) for chai latte and sandwich, Bucky’s, and both Texas rest areas (Richland & Huntsville). I got hope tired, but rejuvenated by the practice and fellowship. It was a small, but very good Embukai.


Hello (again) world!

Welcome to the new incarnation of  this web site using WordPress software on a Mac Mini server.  This rebuild and re-host was required by the regrettable loss of Mobile Me hosting and the discontinuance of the iWeb app.  Thanks to David and WordPress I am able to maintain Clear Lake Iaido’s internet presence.

Please have a look around.  The overall structure is much the same as the old site, however some content has changed and the photos have not yet been added back in.  The ‘What is Iaido?’ page is now updated to reflect my current understanding.  Sensei told me years ago that Iaido is very wide and deep.  As time goes by I come to realize that more and more.

Anyway, please enjoy your time here.

Denton News shodan shiken Tanida-Sensei Tanida-Sensei koshukai

Tanida-Sensei’s Annual Visit

Thanks you to everyone who made this event so great.  We continue to learn from the previous year and as a result this year’s event was the smoothest ever.

This year more than ever Tanida-Sensei was full of energy and it was all we could do to keep up.  Total hours of practice for the weekend (Friday – Sunday) were about 21 hours.  We are incredibly lucky to have him come every year to teach us.

In addition to the koshukai there was a shodan shiken held late Sunday morning.  Three Clear Lake students tested successfully for their ranks, and one student received honorable mention by Tanida-Sensei.

hatsunuki News US Embukai


The 2009 US Embukai was another great success with participants coming from Belgium, France, and Canada as well as the US.  Next year will be the tenth anniversary and we look forward to being a part of that event.

The next event on our horizon occurs on New Year’s Day.  Hatsu-Nuki is the term for first draw of the year and is usually performed in Japan on Jan. 1 at dawn at a Shinto shrine.  We don’t have ready access to a shrine, but endeavor to do it with the same spirit of solemnity.  In Japan, the ritual is followed by a breakfast and hot sake toast to the new year.  Here in Houston we do it outside at dawn, so our participants tend to wear as much under their iaido clothes as necessary.  [The photo above is from the 2004 hatsunuki.]

News US Embukai US Embukai koshukai

9th US Embukai

Since most of us will be gone to Denton for the US Embukai, and those left will not be able to cover for me, the Friday and Sunday (Nov. 13 & 15) practices will be canceled.

For any guests reading this, the US Embukai is a once-a-year gathering of MJER practitioners in the US and elsewhere who have a living link to Ikeda-Soke.  Various lineages within the Seitokai/ZNIR are represented at the weekend long koshukai which culminates in a formal embukai on Sunday.  Participants need to be a student of a teacher within Seitokai/ZNIR.  Visitors are welcome to observe quietly.  [The photo above is from the 2004 US Embukai.]

News schedule shodan shiken Tanida-Sensei

Certificates Are In; New Wednesday Practice

Congratulations to everyone who tested in March.  Tanida-Sensei mailed the certificates to Sensei not long after the event, and then he mailed ours to me.  A few weeks ago I presented the last remaining certificate to Richard.  I am very proud of everyone who tested, and of all who made the journey to Denton to train with Tanida-Sensei.

Next week a new Wednesday class, from 8:15 to 9:30 PM,will be added to our weekly schedule.  Please remember that the preceding yoga class goes until 8:00, and don’t enter the studio until that class is over.

move News

Moving to Friendswood after 10 years in League City

After months of searching we have found a new place to practice.  Starting May 1, Friday, we will meet for practice on Friday and Sunday evenings at the Sundance Yoga Studio in Friendswood.  This move puts us closer to Houston, the Beltway, 288, and near to Pearland.  We will miss the League City dojo, our original home.

hatsunuki News Other demo Tanida-Sensei US Embukai

Website redone using iWeb

The website has been completely redone using iWeb mainly for ease of updating.  The photo albums are still in work and will be added later.

What has happened since last I wrote?  Hatsunuki on Jan. 1.  Tanida-Sensei’s visit during Feb. 29 – Mar. 2, during which the following tested:  Ali & Jon for yondan, Ron for sandan, and Dale & Beverly for nidan.  All who tested received menjou (certificate).  No other traveling, even to Denton, occurred after this.  I just felt like staying close to home and working on long neglected projects, such as rebuilding this website from scratch.

Another significant event that occured last year is Jon’s departure from Houston to Kansas City, Missouri, and his establishment of a new dojo there.  See his website for more information.

For the future I look forward to seeing Jon again when I travel to Kansas City to join him and Charles-Sensei in a demonstration of MJER at the their annual Japan Festival.

Also, I want to visit Sensei soon, and visit Neil-Sensei in Baton Rouge.  Then the 8th annual US Embukai is in November.