Day 1 (Tuesday, 13 January 2015)
This 2015 marks the third visit to Taiwan by members of Eishin Ryu Iaido Singapore. The members who attended the Taikai are Michael, Luke, Billy, Noi, Julius, Ashley, Kong Hoi and Andrew.
Except for Andrew and Ashley who flew to Taipei, we gathered at the airport to board the plane for Kaohsiung, scheduled to fly at 1.15am. We transited at Hong Kong airport and waited for the next flight at 9.00am for Kaohsiung.
We arrived in Kaohsiung at about 10.20am on the 13th January and were warmly received by Hou Sensei, Dusty and Andrew. We were greeted with a banner “Eishin Ryu Iaido Sinagpore Club Welcome to Kaohsiung” created by Fang Sensei. All of us were excited to see our gracious hosts once more.
We took the train from Kaohsiung Airport to Formosa Boulevard Station and proceeded to our hotel (R Hotel Kaohsiung). As two rooms were not ready for occupation, we placed our luggage in Andrew’s room.
Due to time constraint as training was scheduled at 2.30pm, we had lunch at our hotel and we thank Hou Sensei for hosting lunch.
As the previous dojo (Butokuten) in Kaohsiung was under renovations, we were introduced to a new location for training, the Kaohsiung Kendo Club. This would be the training ground for the next three days (2.30pm to 4.30p.m) before the Seminar.
We were grateful that Kobara Sensei took time in the afternoon to train us. Kobara Sensei worked out the kinks in only three waza, but there was a lot to take in. Mostly, we were too stiff and were encouraged to relax our postures.
After training, we adjourned for a sumptuous dinner (mutton soup, chinese prata, etc) at Luo Shifu. We like to thank our Taiwan host for the dinner. It was a long day and all of us rested early.
Day 2 (Wednesday, 14 January 2015)
As training commenced in the afternoon, we were able to get up later for breakfast at 8.30am. As Noi and Julius have not been to Butokuten, we took the opportunity to bring them there to get a glimpse of that incredible hall.
After visiting Butokuten and as time was running short, we then proceeded for a quick lunch at MacDonald’s near our training dojo. Kobara Sensei taught us again and we went through the seiza and battou-hou wazas. Needless to say, there was so much to learn from Sensei.
After training, we were pleasantly surprised that our host brought us nearby for beef noodles. This beef noodle stall is famous and we actually wanted to have that for our lunch. We thank Genshinkan’s advisor for the dinner treat.
Later that evening, our members were given a free for all pass to visit the sites of Kaohsiung, such as night markets, leg massage, shopping districts at Central Park and the Kaohsiung 85.
Day 3 (Thursday, 15 January 2015)
The program for Day 3 was similar to Day 1 and 2 except that the training was led by Hou Sensei, Mr Lin and for those of us less than fluent in Mandarin, got our translations from Dusty. Kobara Sensei had to go to the airport to receive Sakuma Sensei, Sasaki San and Taichi San. Later Kobara Sensei brought them to visit us training and introduced them to us.
Michael had to attend a meeting with Kobara Sensei and we had Charlie Sensei who brought us to Argentinian Beef for dinner. The food was fabulous, although some of us do not consume beef, they had chicken and pork instead. In all, everyone enjoyed the dinner and the great fellowship.
Apart from that, each of us was free to do as we pleased. Some would unwind over a beer and a friendly chat, others at the foot massage.
Day 4 (Friday, 16 January 2015)
Day 4 was the first day of the Seminar and the venue for the next three days was the Kaohsiung Martial Arts Stadium, a massive structure where the entrance was guarded by two proud lions.
The schedule of the Seminar on Friday and Saturday was from 1.00pm to 5pm. We left the hotel at 10.30am and had lunch before heading for the Kaohsiung Martial Arts Stadium. We were at the stadium early and waited for it to be opened.
We were separated to the different ranks, those below 3rd Dan studied under Sasaki San and Taichi San, while Kobara Sensei and Sakuma Sensei took the senior grades.
All of us were tired after the first day of the Seminar and as such, we had our dinner at the night market near our hotel. Later, some members went a foot massage and while some rode through the night markets on a scooter bike, experiencing an Indiana Jones moment.
Day 5 (Saturday. 17 January 2015)
Day 5 saw a much larger crowd coming for practice. Our members made new friends and were happy to see old ones.
We were separated to the different ranks, those below 3rd Dan studied under Sakuma sensei, Sasaki san and Taichi San. Sakuma Sensei went through Seiza Mae several times before going on to the next waza. We went through our grading wazas over and over again. The process of going through the wazas and the guidance from Sakuma sensei, Sasaki san and Taichi San enabled us to progress in a such short time. Although Kobara Sensei was teaching the sandans and above, we would come over to us to correct our mistakes.
Later that day, Michael and Billy continued to study under Kobara and Sakuma Senseis the remaining techniques of Tachiuchi no Kurai, a system. While they were practicing Tachiuchi no Kurai, we were going through our grading wazas about 10 times.
After the training, Kobara Sensei invited us for dinner and everyone was excited to go. The location was at a hill top quite near Butokuten and everyone ate to their hearts content.
Day 6 (Sunday, 18 January 2015) Grading and Enbu
The hall was opened at about 8.00am and people gradually shuffled in, changing to their various kimono.
The atmosphere was tense and Kobara Sensei kept on reminding us to be relax. We had our swords lined up on one side and everyone had to wait their turn. Kobara Sensei and several others were decked in the Haori, adding an additional air of solemnity to the event. Everyone was gathered in front of the judging panel and Kobara Sensei gave a speech.
The first order of business after that was the theory examination. For the Singapore group, the questions were to describe the founder of Iaido, the names of the various waza, and the essentials of drawing the sword. Fairly reasonable amount of answers required, except that each question had to be answered with multiple entries. Everyone submitted their written answers in due haste. Next was the real challenge: The practical exam.
The first Dan group started with our “youngest member”, Mr. Ashley Hogan, 74 years old and attempting his first grading in Iaido. We watched him and the other members, Noi, Julius, Andrew, and Kong Hoi go through the exam. There were several Taiwanese members as well, some of whom had really excellent Kirioroshi (full cuts) that was far beyond their attempted grades.
Next was the second Dan group, comprised surprisingly only of Singaporeans, Luke and Billy. They quietly placed their swords down, bowed in, and armed themselves. Gathering up in front of the sensei, they bowed once more, called out their numbers, and were given the go ahead. First was Mae, then Yaegaki, Tsukekomi, Juntou and then Tsuigekitou. It felt like forever, and yet it was over in a flash. Time did not wait for them however, and they were motioned to remove their swords and wait alongside with the rest.
We saw very impressive Iai in the subsequent Dan grades.
Then came the enbu. The Singapore group was fortunate for all of its Second Dan participants (Michael, Luke and Billy) to achieve best in class. Andrew from the First Dan group also received special mention and encouragement for his efforts, and Mr. Ashley Hogan, the 74 year old first Dan applicant, received much praise for his continued devotion to learning at such an advanced age. Many of the Taiwanese hosts were awed by his determination.
When it came for the awarding of grade, everyone was congratulated with a pass.
We proceeded to end the day's affairs with dinner at the Kaohsiung Iaido Club's favourite haunt, a humble seafood spot with an incredible view and equally incredible food. We all had good laughs, good times and warm memories, not forgetting the “Yam Seng Toast” for our Taiwanese hosts.
We could not be more thankful for our hosts, Taiwan Genshinkan, in particular Hou sensei, Julianne Fang sensei, Charlie sensei, Mr Lin and his incredibly skilled wife for tailoring our kimono, Dusty for guiding us around, helping with translations and being an overall cool guy. Kobara Sensei, Sakuma Sensei, Sasaki San and Taichi San for their immense efforts and generosity in sharing their love of Iaido with all of us.
Each and everyone of us was different in our unique ways, but we were all united by a common bond: our love for Iaido, and the pursuit of its teachings.
To our Taiwanese friends, see all of you next year!