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A long flight from Durban, departing at 8pm (with its inevitable delays), via Joburg and Milan, saw me arrive with baggage in tow at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam by noon the next day, local time.

After an early night and a well-deserved rest Amsterdam was at my mercy the next morning! I walked through a central park with joggers, cyclists and roller-bladers whizzing by. The tangle of people-powered transport of typical of Holland’s rush hour contrasted with the slow and deliberate movements of a T’ai Chi student going through the Chen Man-Ching short form.

I pounded the streets, stalked the curio shops and enjoyed the lip-smackingly good ware from the bakeries before making my way to the gym hall for training in Katori Shinto Ryu with Hatakeyama Sensei (the 9th Dan) and Eric Louw Sensei (the 6th Dan) from Holland.

The course started with paired partner training working through the set of omote kata. It was quite a culture shock to suddenly be immersed in a new group, training with strangers of varying ability – especially as a relative novice with just a couple of years worth of training under the belt.

It was enlightening and mind-boggling to discover the myriad of interpretations and possibilities in a kata that I thought I knew – and a journey of growth to train with such a varied degree of ability and wide range of temperaments. And came with a mix of both humility and amusement to have someone correct you for a wrong move, when the move had just been mastered five seconds before out of self preservation because there was no relying on the next strike coming from where it should, or landing where it was supposed to.

Explanations of the kata followed, with Hatakeyama Sensei showing the moves and the applications more than explaining them, while pattering on in a unique mix of Japanese, English, French and Italian, gleaned from his teaching circuits around Europe in an earnest desire to communicate the finer points of Katori to us all.

The watchwords for this summer school were: Precision (pronounced with an Italian accent), Tai Sabaki and Shippe at 45 degrees.

Precision, or exactness, is self-explanatory. We were expected to execute the moves precisely as shown; to be correct – and on target.

Tai Sabaki: A lot of the moves in the paired training require one to move just out of harms way to avoid a strike before counter striking. This implied a focus on body movement to move out of the line of attack and position for a counter attack.

Shippe at 45 degrees: Well, shippe in this context is how Hatakeyama Sensei pronounced hips. We soon got the message that to angle our bodies (and yes, our hips) in order to reduce the target area presented to an opponent and to increase our own reach.

After the in-depth explanation of some of the kata we were back on the floor to do “many more keiko”. Once slowly and then once at speed – and boy did that vary – through each of the kata with kakegoe. Then on the instruction “change-change” and we bowed out and sought out a new training partner for another round of keiko.

The break between sessions (very welcome after three hours of training) saw me scouring the streets of a new suburb, seeing what there was to be seen. Then “same-same”. More training, working with partners, and then more explanations, followed by more training and partner work, covering the basic syllabus required for a shodan grading: The four sword kata, six bo kata, four naginata kata, and 11 sword drawing kata (five standing and six from a kneeling positions called iaigoshi) known at battojutsu.

The training continued in the same vein for five days – with precision, tai sabaki, and shippe at 45 degrees featuring prominently.

I managed to hold my own until to came to the battojutsu, which were all new to me. We practised as a group, doing each kata four or five times before moving onto the next progressively move complex and difficult kata.

Suffice it to say that I bumbled and fumbled my way through it so badly that I took the time to find people to teach me, at least in part, so that I did not have to repeat the hour-and-a-half of hapless bumbling the next time practice came around. It worked! I bumbled so much better, and with purpose at the next battojutsu session.

ITwas an enjoyable summer school, despite a pair of very sore, well-walked and well-trained legs – and should that told tales of wielding swords, naginata and hefty backpacks.

Oh well, anything goes in Amsterdam – even a crazy woman with a backpack and a sword strapped to the side of it hot-footing it through the streets. It only took four days before I met a fellow martial artist who told me that it was illegal to carry an uncovered bokuto (wooden sword), or any form of weapon for that matter, in public! Fortunately I escaped any possible fine, but I did get a number of strange looks – and I thought it was hard to raise an eyebrow in a city like Amsterdam!

 

Keep those shippe at 45 degrees, step out of harms way, and do it all with precision.

Domo arigato gozai mas’ta – thank you very much