- ZNKR Kendo- 7dan
- ZNKR Iaido - 7dan
Takeda Sensei's essay
Biography - Bradley Anderson - Agassiz Dojo
My name is Bradley Anderson and I'm the senior instructor in our dojo. Rather than tell you my ranks and qualifications, I'd like to explain how I came to love studying and teaching iaido so much.
My curiosity with martial arts started when I was in high school. I contacted the nearest dojo, 30 miles away, and asked if there was any chance of getting an instructor to come to my home town for a demonstration and possibly to teach. I was told that if I could get at least 30 people to come, an instructor would come and give a demonstration in Tae Kwon Do. There were more than 40 that attended the demonstration, and 25 signed up for classes the next month at our new dojo. I continued studying that Korean martial art through college until graduating.
After I started working, I decided to try something different and joined the Hidden Teaching's of Ryukyu Kempo in Fargo. Kyoshi Cline became more than just a Sensei, but also a close friend. The founder of the system Seiyu Oyata was an extraordinary man, and I truly believe that Ryute Karate is unlike any other martial art. The techniques and philosophy that I learned over the five years I studied made me hungry for more and more knowledge. To learn the techniques, we practiced using them on each other. Only through feeling a technique done properly on our own body, could one learn how to execute it themselves. I believe that this non-violent style truly is "goshin jitsu," a life protection art.
After spending time learning Ryute, I wanted to learn more about Japan, the language, and the culture. In Spring 1996 after receiving my Shodan in Ryute, I moved to Japan to teach English. Japan was a whole new world, and starting to learn the language was a challenge.
I wanted to start studying a sword art, especially iaido or kenjutsu, but unfortunately I couldn't find a dojo nearby. I was fortunate to find a Sensei at the public budokan who would teach me kendo. He didn't speak any English, and my Japanese language skills were just starting to grow, so most of my learning was done by watching his technique rather than having it explained to me. This is the traditional manner of teaching and learning budo (mitori geiko).
My Sensei was a patient and kind man, and I really enjoyed our early morning practices, even on the freezing cold, hardwood floor dojo. Toyama, where I was living, has winters similar to Minnesota, and I have to say, that floor and those practices were COLD!
Kendo taught me how to touch my inner "ki" or spirit. Using "enzen no metsuke" which means "gazing at distant mountains" we look indirectly at our opponent to find an opening or weak point and attack. This combination of spirit and awareness are what separates a good kendo player from a great one. Both before and after practice we would perform "mokuso" to prepare ourselves and to review our good and bad points. I found this mental conditioning and review a very useful and necessary part of learning kendo. The same technique is also used in iaido, and we perform it in our dojo as well.
Just before my Kendo Nidan test, I moved to another part of Japan to teach in a new company. I continued learning kendo, but had to stop after a few months when I developed a hernia in my back. It was really painful to keep the necessary stance and perform the "leaping" style of strike that you do in Kendo, and so I had to quit. Luckily, one of the Sensei's also was a teacher of iaido. Finally I was able to study what I wanted to learn when I originally came to Japan!
Takeda Sensei showing me how to make a saya.
From 1999 until April of 2007, I studied Musoshindenkoryu under the tutelage of Fujio Takeda Sensei. We practiced at both the local city gym, and also a high school kendo dojo. In addition to the standard Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei seitei iaido kata, we also practiced our koryu's much more difficult and advanced kata.
I was fortunate to have joined a group with so many kind and generous people. The yudansha, or upper ranked people were very helpful and patient in teaching beginners. Takeda Sensei taught mostly by performing the kata for us, and then we repeated it over and over as he and Sano Sensei coached us and fixed some of our technical mistakes. This is the traditional way of learning in a Japanese koryu style.
I started with a bokuto, but because of my previous kendo experience, I already had some of the basic stances and strikes found in iaido. After about a month, I was able to start using an iaito. Takeda Sensei lent me one of his old practice blades and I used that for about the first year.
Every month we had some of the regional senior instructors come and practice with us. They were from the "honbu" or home dojo in our region, and most were at least 6dan or above. Most of them served on the judging panel for "shyodanshinsa" dan testing and also tournaments. We always worked seitei with them, and they offered many small pointers as they worked with us man-to-man.
Takeda Sensei putting the finishing touches on my new saya!
Just after my 2dan test, Sensei one day gave me a heavier, longer blade to work with. It was his personal Iaito that he had trained with for over 10 years before he changed to a shinken. I was honored to receive it, and I was surprised to learn that it was mine to keep! The weight and length were the same as a regular katana, and much heavier than other people's iaito. It took some time for me to get used to the weight compared with my lighter iaito. Occasionally one of my students will use that iaito to train with until they get their own.
Once I passed my 4dan test, my Japanese father-in-law had a Japanese katana commissioned to be made for me from a smith in Seki, Gifu prefecture, Japan. That's the traditional home of the best sword makers in Japan. Now I use that shinken (sharp sword) in my regular practice. It's refined my technique again and added an additional element of realism to my study. More can be read about that in our blog.
Iaido has taught me much more than technique and kata. It's taught me about myself. My strengths, weaknesses, and character. It's taught me about kindness and helping my fellow man. My Japanese sensei, Mr. Takeda, is one of the gentlest, most giving people I've ever met.
Iaido's taught me about perseverance. It's taught me patience. Learning and practicing the same kata over and over trying to perfect my technique takes considerable time.
It's often said that iaido is all about NOT using our sword. The term "saya no uchi de katsu " or "victory within the scabbard" means just that. It's about practicing, knowing our abilities, having confidence and a strong spirit that allows us to achieve victory over our self as well as our opponent, and therefore not having to draw the sword and use it.
Iaido has helped me to find a place within myself that I can only describe as harmony. It's a feeling when you're so in tune with your technique and your surroundings that you just "lose yourself" in the kata. It's these occasions that make iaido special for me. I know it sounds corny, but it's something you can't describe in words, you need to experience it.
How does all of this apply to our lives outside of the dojo? I'll let you figure that out on your own. I love practicing iaido, and I love teaching iaido.
I currently hold a 4dan ranking in the Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei association.
My Sensei from Japan, Fujio Takeda, sometimes writes essays on iaido. His first essay discusses how he started and learned Musoshindenkoryu from his Sensei.