Help me become a Jedi.
January 3, 2010 8:05 PM   Subscribe

So I'm looking to get some exercise. I'm pondering iaido and kendo dojos in Santa Monica and West LA. Which style and what dojo would work for me?

First off, my eye docs will shit their pants if I take a blow to the head with any force, or if I fall with any force. (My vitreous humor isn't attached to my retinas, it seems, and it can bounce around and cause me trouble.) Is kendo right out for me as a consequence? How often does a beginning kendoka take a headshot, and how hard do they tend to be?

Secondly, operating on the "the closest art to my house is the one I will do" rule, there's an iaido dojo, Aiki Toho style, up the street (site). However, they charge for class observation, which I understand is generally a no-no because it creates an initial investment and a sense of obligation before you ever get a look at the training. Any hive mind folks have experience with this dojo, or with Aiki Toho in general? Is this a usual practice for Aiki Toho, or should I be wary of these teachers and their motives?

If you already have an existing relationship with an iaido or kendo dojo near Santa Monica, CA, which one? Do you dig it? Are there dojos here that I should avoid? Are there other weapon arts with good schools in LA that might work for me? I have no interest in arts that are solely empty-hand or primarily grappling-related; I think better with a sword or stick in my hand and find the work more enjoyable.

Thanks, gang.
posted by fairytale of los angeles to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I did iaido for a while in Cleveland. My sensei was Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu, but mostly we did the seitei-gata. If you're not looking to get into the "deep art" aspect of it, particularly, you may want to go with a dojo that teaches the seitei, as it's the "standard" iaido nowadays. I will tell you that I did not get an enormous amount of exercise doing it. Certainly it's a strenuous activity in some ways, but the point isn't really to get your heart rate up. My legs did get kinda monstrous, though.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:11 PM on January 3, 2010

Any of those activities will almost certainly result in you getting knocked around a bit, they are contact sports it is inevitable. Try yoga or tai chi.
posted by BobbyDigital at 9:04 PM on January 3, 2010

Iaido is not a contact sport at all and it should be absolutely fine, in terms of getting hit on the head. Kendo, on the other hand... as a beginner, so long as you're not in armour, you should only be hitting other people and not getting hit at all. However, once you are in armour you will definitely be taking blows to the head with some force.

In my opinion, kendo as a beginner is only a shadow of what it is like after getting into armour, so you may not want to invest time in the art if you will only be able to participate in a limited capacity; still, you should try a couple of classes and see if your feelings are different. I can't imagine any reason that you would be struck in the head as a beginner, except by accident.

I don't know anything about dojos in California, but if you are thinking of practicing iaido might you also find kyudo (archery) of some interest? That's also an art that will put a weapon in your hand and shouldn't put your head at any risk.
posted by daelin at 9:26 PM on January 3, 2010

If headshots are out, then so is kendo.
Once you're in armour, you'll take upwards of 100 hits to the head in an average 2-hour session. Done by experienced kendoka, the blows are not that hard, but pretty much anywhere outside Japan it's a given that you're going to be training with a mixed bag, including adult beginners, most of whom won't realise how little strength it takes to cause significant pain with a piece of bamboo.

I don't have any experience with the Aiki crowd you mention, but if they're charging to view then I'd steer clear. There's nothing mystical or secret that's going on and while you could ostensibly learn the art by watching, you're not going to do it after one or two lessons.

It sounds like you'd be a lot more suited to one of the older koryu styles of iai/kenjutsu. Many of these will incorporate tameshigiri (test cutting) using live blades, if that floats your boat. There is no contact involved, so your eyes should be safe.

I'm sorry I don't have any direct contacts, but I would strongly suggest asking around on the kendo-world forums. It's run by a couple of kiwi blokes (Alec Bennett and Hamish Robison) who live and train in Japan and who know a formidable amount about long sharp pointy things. There is also a large community of sword-art nerds that populate the forum. Since you seem not to have a deep knowledge of this stuff, The other arts area is probably a good place to start. Ask questions. Get acquainted. Chances are you'll find someone that will introduce you to someone reputable.
posted by CardinalRichelieuHandPuppet at 9:30 PM on January 3, 2010

Response by poster: To clarify my theoretical-knowledge level: I've read Dave Lowry's books and am at least passing acquainted with the idea of working within the koryu. Practically speaking, though, I have not trained in a formal martial art since I was a kid, however-- my sword experience comes from lessons a few years back with friends who had a wide range of different styles, and a bit of Western fencing in college.

My big qualm about working within a ryuha is an internal-to-me one (do I, working 45+ hours a week and having a spouse working 45+ hours a week, have the time to commit to the art the way the koryu demand), and not something you guys can answer.

CardinalRichelieu, thank you very much for giving me such a detailed answer, though-- I admit, there's a Toyama-ryu battojutsu school just out of range for me (in Gardena) that's been tempting when I examine my options on Google.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:25 PM on January 3, 2010

If being hit on the head or falling over is not an option, then kendo is not the sport for you.

As for Iai, whether koryu or not, you're unlikely to get a solid workout out of it. It can sometimes be strenous, your legs will get much stronger, your arms might get a small workout from swinging a metal bar around, but other than that, you won't get much out of it.

Charging for viewing a class is ridiculous and you should not even consider it for a second. If they charge to even view a class, their monthly fees must also be out of whack. Out of all the Iai instructors (and kendo) I have met, the great majority charge only what they need to pay for the dojo's needs. My dojo's fees came to about $40 a month for each student and we weren't that big (maybe 15 students for Iai on good days).

Note that as far as that Aiki Toho school, the Iaido component was created by Nishio Shoji sensei in the last century (after 1955), and thus is not koryu. Also, given that he says he got his sword experience by studying "Nihon Zendoku" Iaido, which I've never heard about, and can't find any information on save as it relates to him on the Internet, I wouldn't really be looking at that school for Iaido at all. Even something as basic as seitei Iai would be better.

And after seeing a youtube video of Nishio sensei performing kata from the Iai Toho, I am not impressed. Looks like he took various kata from other styles (seitei, eishin-ryu especially), made them all standing, made maybe one or two changes, and gave them an Aikido feel. If you're into Aikido, it may be interesting. If you're looking for Iai, you can find better.

I practiced some cutting with the toyama guys. Great fellows, and cutting's always fun. Perhaps they have a student in your area you could carpool with, or maybe someone advanced enough to start teaching. Ask them, you never know.

Nishio sensei's Iai Toho
The Seitei gata (by Kim Taylor, my sensei's sensei, and one of his students)

posted by splice at 4:14 AM on January 4, 2010

Just repeating that kendo is not something you want to be doing if you're not supposed to get hit in the head.

In a kendo tournament in college I got knocked unconscious after a combination of getting hit on the head and bodychecked into a wall.
posted by emmling at 6:30 AM on January 4, 2010

I'm an aikido guy who took up iaido in 2008. I think, as others have said, kendo might not be good for you (except, as daelin said, at the beginning). Iaido is a decent workout - not as strenuous as aikido (for me), but still enjoyable.

But now, I have another reason to not like aiki toho - charging you to WATCH a class! That's crap. Sorry. If that's what you're leaning towards, give it a shot.

If you're interested in weapons work, I'll suggest aikido weapons. My instructor teaches a weapons class (jo, bokuto) once a week. You might try to look around for an aikido school in your area that offers weapons training. See if they'll let you do just weapons.

Oh, and splice - I met Kim Taylor at last year's AUSKF iaido seminar in Boise. What a great guy!
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 10:16 AM on January 4, 2010

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