Travelling with Sensei Ramon Lawrence (Renshi Rokudan Iaido, Godan Jodo, Yondan Kendo)

by Benjamin (Jeri) James

Iaido Training Tour Brisbane/Noumea December 2010

Friday 3rd December:
We arrived at the Perth airport at 0630 to head off for Brisbane to run a series of training seminars. Sensei Tom Johnson (Sandan Iaido; Nidan Jodo) picked us up at the Brisbane airport at 1430 and we headed for the Scorpion Dojo in the Logan area near Brisbane.

We arrived at Anthony and Vicky Kavanagh’s house where the dojo is situated around 1600 and sat down for a nice cup of coffee before getting started on some training at 1730 for a small group of Iaido members training under Tom. We ran through the 12 kata to check out the current status of each members techniques and mainly worked on Tom’s technical details so that he can lead the instruction for this group after we depart on Sunday night.

Saturday 4th December:
We started training at 0900 with 9 students of differing levels of knowledge. We also had Sue from the Brisbane dojo join us for training. We spent the day going through Kata 1 to 6 in explicit detail with repetitious practise to hone up the individual skills of each member. We finished training at 1730 and went to dinner at a local Italian Restaurant with members from the club.

Sunday 5th December:
We started training at 0900 with a refresher on Kata 1 to 6 until 1100. Sensei Zlatko Peter Kitak (Sandan Iaido) come up from the Gold Coast to join in the training. Sue again joined us and we continued on with Kata 7 to 12 until 1500. The training followed the same principles as on the previous day.

Once again it was a very successful few days of training and there continued to be great improvements of all students beyond their current grade levels.
We departed Anthony’s house at 1600 with Tom driving us once again to the Brisbane International airport to start our journey to Noumea, New Caledonia.
Our flight with Aircalan departed Brisbane at 2035 and arrived in Noumea International airport at 2355.

Monday 6th December:
We passed through Immigration and Customs without any problems and without anybody interested in the swords we were carrying. Yvan Ritterszki (Godan Iaido) met us at the airport with his assisting club member Rodolphe Madeleine (1st Kyu Iaido) as the translator and driver. They took us on the 45 kilometre drive to the La Pacific Nouvata Hotel where we arrived at 0130.

We were picked up at the hotel at 0545 by Yvan and headed for the National Judo Dojo arriving at 0600 to meet up with 6 of the students and started training with some warmup exercises and then went through the Kata 1 to 12 to find out the standard of each person training.

We realised the standard was much lower than we had anticipated so we went through the basic cutting procedures and introduced them to small technical development exercises Sensei Lawrence had devised over the years to give better detail to technical abilities at higher levels. This proved very beneficial to all the members and they started to show improvement quickly. We finished training at 0830 as most people had to depart for their work.

We returned to the hotel and had some sleep before Yvan picked us up at 1200 to take us to a Seafood Restaurant on the beach for lunch. After lunch we went for a tour around Noumea to some of the hill top lookouts. We returned to the hotel for a rest and were picked up again at 1730 to go to the dojo to start training at 1800.

We spent the nights training doing Kata 1 only spending a lot of time on how to kneel and stand, use of the hara, metsuke and zanshin to improve the technique. We emphasised the need to slow the movements down and to make big kihon movements. We finished training at 2030 and headed back to the hotel and some dinner.

Tuesday 7th:
Yvan picked us up at 0900 and we headed to the Cultural Centre near the Domestic airport. It was an amazing structure and we spent three hours walking through the park and exhibition centre before going back into town for lunch.

We trained from 1800 to 2030 at the dojo again and concentrated on Kata 2. As we returned to the hotel Yvan gave us a Plum Pudding his wife specialised in making each Christmas. We had to eat it before returning to Australia.

Wednesday 8th:
We followed the same routine as the previous days but moved onto Kata 3 & 4 ensuring all techniques maintained the higher levels we had been demonstrating and demanding they achieve to stand any chance of passing a Shodan level at the end of the week.
At 1900 we were picked up by Guillaume and taken to a Seafood Restaurant down in the harbour area to have dinner with some of the iaido club members and wives.

Thursday 9th:
Today was allocated as a sight seeing day with a trip to Amadee Island Lighthouse with Yvan. We travelled to the island on the “Mary D” catamaran taking about 30 minutes to arrive there after leaving the Noumea harbour at 0830. It was a beautiful sunny day and the island was small and within the reef that surrounds Noumea. Lunch and entertainment was provided under shelter from the sun with many girls doing the hula dances and other dancing entertainment. Further entertainment was provided with glass bottom boat s taking us over the small reefs watching fish as they fed on bread provided by the crew of Mary D.

The highlight of entertainment came during a coconut splitting exhibition when Sensei Lawrence was taking a nap on a chair and as he woke up he put his foot down onto a metre long black and white banded sea snake. The snake started to wrap around his foot as he flung it into the air with a yell and it came down next to him. Sensei’s feet were out rigid clear of the ground as the snake took off for the water. The guests around were quite amused at this entertainment, except for Sensei who has a phobia of snakes.

We left the island at 1530 arriving back at the Noumea harbour at 1600. Yvan took us to the Olympic Sports Department to meet up with the staff before returning to the hotel to get our training gear and be at the dojo for training at 1800.

We concentrated on Kata 5 to 7 ensuring that all the skills we had been imparting earlier in the week were maintained in the standing kata. We finished training at 2030 and returned to the hotel at 2100.

Friday 10th:
Commenced training at 0600 and continued going over kata 5 to 7 until 0830. Some of the members wanted to stay training for another hour so we continued until they had to leave the dojo. We returned to the hotel around 1100. We went down to the swimming pool for the first time since arriving. Sensei had a 5 minute dip but the water was freezing. We did some walking around the local shops and had one of the local “sandwiches” which were in fact foot-long bread rolls that were really delicious. We rested up in the afternoon until 1400 and then we went to the Millitary Dojo for Sensei to train the two Godan while the other three trained in the next room. At 1630 we headed around the corner to a pub and Tappers Restaurant to have something to eat before the next general training class at the Judo Dojo at 1800.

We concentrated on kata 8 to 10 and finished training again at 2030. We had been specifically concentrating all week on developing a very strong basis for the Shodan examination which would be conducted on five techniques selected from kata 1 to 10 only. Our intention was to build a strong foundation that the senior members could expand on during the next six months or so. Sensei Lawrence had spent considerable time drilling the two Godan members into the higher levels of knowledge they needed to impart to their students and also to train themselves towards their Rokudan (6th Dan) examinations in the near future.

Saturday 11th:
It was a late start day today and Yvan picked us up at the hotel at 0900 to go shopping at the harbour markets. We bought a few things and generally had a good look around before Yvan took us back to his house for a drink and to meet up with his wife. We returned to the hotel at 1200. We had some lunch and left the hotel at 1400 to run training again. We went quickly over kata 11 and 12 which they did not need for the examination at Shodan level. We then concentrated on examination practice against the clock using random selection of 5 kata.
Sensei Lawrence spent time with the two Godan instructors concentrating on their understanding of what to look for during examinations of Shodan candidates ready for the examinations to be held on the Sunday. We continued training until 2030 and had a few beers with the students before heading back to the hotel for the night.

Sunday 12th:
We were picked up at the hotel at 0830 and arrived at the dojo for 0900 start to training. We set up the dojo for the examinations and gave the students the examination kata and allowed them one hours free practice to get ready for a 1000 start to the examination.
At 1000 we commenced the formal grading with two candidates demonstrating at the same time. There were only four attempting Shodan so it didn’t take too long to go through the grading. On completion we informally sat a test with one student to determine what kyu grade he should be as the New Caledonian dojo’s grade their own students independently up to Ikkyu at the current time. After witnessing him do all five kata that the Shodan’s demonstrated we all independently agreed he was at Yonkyu level. This was a good test for the two Godan to grade kyu grades with us and explain to the Sensei why they graded him Yonkyu level. Sensei was pleased with all the results as the four Shodan all passed their gradings which was not expected on the first day of training this week.

The training week was far more successful than expected and all students that attended the training had demonstrated a much higher skill level by the end of the week and had certainly come up to the high standards that are held in Australia. Sensei explained to all candidates and the other members that they had been taught some very advanced skills but they needed to consolidate these skills over the next six months so that “muscle memory” retained the skills so that they could proceed to the next level in twelve months time and also be ready for more advanced training in the future. The excellent attitude of all members would form a tremendous baseline for the future development of new members too.
We returned to the hotel at 1200 and had the afternoon to prepare for our departure tomorrow and catch up on some rest before meeting for our farewell dinner at the restaurant next door to the hotel at 1900. The farewell dinner was fantastic and we all had a great time before finally going back to the hotel at 2300.

Monday 13th:
We were up and ready to depart at 1000 and waiting in the foyer for Yvan and his wife to pick us up. They also had to go to the airport to meet their son and his family returning from holidays in France. We had a message from Qantas to say that the plane was running an hour late and that our departure would be late as a result. We arrived at a crowded airport and managed to get our seats and luggage booked and then waited in the long and slow line through the single security screening system. It was the most disorganised security processing system I had experienced to date. It would have helped if the silly passengers had filled their exit forms in prior to lining up instead of holding everyone back while they completed it at the counter. We eventually got through and went to the Qantas Club as Sensei was a member. We waited there for three hours until we finally boarded the plane at 1510 and departed for Sydney at 1530 knowing we would miss our connection to Perth but could not do anything about it.

We eventually arrived at Sydney International airport at 1740 and went through Immigration and Customs without any delays although we had to get some wood and our swords checked first. It was good to see something running smoothly.

We went to the Qantas ticket counter to find out what connection they had arranged for us and found that we had missed all three connection flights to Perth and had to stay over in Sydney until the 0830 flight tomorrow. Sensei had his business employees Christmas Party at Willow Pond tonight so would miss it all, but he wasn’t too concerned as his two son’s would have to take care of everyone in his absence.

Qantas put us up in single rooms at the Mascot Holiday Inn Hotel and provided us with meals too.

Tuesday 14th:
We were up and down to breakfast with our bags in tow by 0600. We had breakfast at the hotel and then caught a taxi to the Domestic airport and arrived there at 0700. The plane was on time departing Sydney and we arrived back in Perth at 1110.
Apart from some minor travelling problems the whole trip was extremely successful. Everyone we trained was very happy with the high standard of teaching we imparted and all their performances were exceptionally good.

This was a great experience to travel as Sensei’s Kohei and assist in the running of Iaido training in a comprehensive and highly technical manner. We trained beginners through to Godan (5th Dan) members and improved everybody’s knowledge greatly in the process of enjoying the networking and friendship with other martial artists.

Benjamin (Jeri) James
Godan Iaido; Sandan Jodo