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After the great interest for the European 7th dan sensei’s interviews, this is the time to interview Martin Lindgren Sensei.

Enjoy the reading.

When and where were you born?

I was born 1971 in Hallunda, a suburb to Stockholm, Sweden but moved with my family to Skellefteå, about 800 km north from Stockholm, when I was 12.

Martin Lindgren Sensei

When and how did you start, what grade are you and how did you realize it was a full commitment to you?

The background goes back to my teenage years when I played volleyball at a decent level. When I was 19 I had had enough of the pressure from competition, I had periostitis in both legs and realised I was too short to get any further in volleyball, so I needed to find something else to do. I tried Taekwondo for a few months but while I liked the physical training there was still pretty much focus on competition and I wasn’t fond of the idea of kicking my friends in the head. When I later moved to Gothenburg for university studies, I started Aikido through the student organization and one strong factor was that there is no competition. The Aikido club was very nice and including and I made good friends there. Already in my first semester we tried Iaido, since the Aikido dojo leader har done some Iaido and knew the local Iaido club Shinken Kai, led by Jhonnie Martina, a student of Komaki Sensei in Stockholm. To be honest, I wasn’t impressed by the Iaido training at first. But some other guys from the Aikido club started to go to the Iaido club and I went along, mostly because I wanted something to do in the evenings. After a few months I was the only one left doing both Aikido and Iaido. I did both when I lived in Gothenburg but considered Aikido as my main focus.

As I mentioned earlier, I started Budo largely to avoid competition. So I had very mixed feelings when Jhonnie told me that he had signed me up for the Swedish championships, but I went along. This was 1995. I couldn’t afford a proper iaito, but borrowed an ornamental Spanish katana replica from my Aikido teacher. It had a plastic tsuka and I had to re-do the wrapping a few times as it was held together with a rubber band. Today, I wouldn’t allow anyone to use that kind of sword for practice! In those days there were no pool matches in the competitions, so I was out after losing my first bout in the individuals in the Mudan class, but was pleased that I had remembered all the reiho. In the team competition, I felt more comfortable and took a flag from a guy with a much higher grade than me, so it was all in all a positive experience.

Jhonnie then signed me up for the national team, together with Raili Salminen who had joined Shinken Kai around the same time as me. I spent a lot of money on a 2,6 shaku iaito, which was the one I could get hold on. For a long period Raili and I drove the 500 km from Gothenburg to Stockholm almost every month to practice with Komaki sensei in the weekends. We didn’t have much money and usually drove in a borrowed old Mercedes that maxed out at 80 km/h. We slept on friends’ sofas or floors, and went home with our palms full of blisters. The training was a bit harsh but it gave me a good technical base that I believe has served me well. Komaki Sensei was Muso Shinden ryu but we mainly practiced the Zen Ken Ren iai gata.

Raili and I went along with Jhonnie to the European Iaido Championships in Paris 1996. Before we left another dojo friend, Rolf Dahlström, said to me that ‘If you don’t get the gold medal, I will eat up my sword!’ He was much more convinced in my success than I was, but luckily he didn’t have to try to digest his iaito. In those early years of the EIC, you were allowed to compete in a class higher than your actual grade. Our coach was pretty sure that Raili would do well in Mudan so he put me in the Shodan class, even though I hadn’t done my ikkyu exam yet. But that EIC was very successful for us and both Raili and I got gold medals in Mudan and Shodan class, respectively, and Jhonnie a silver in Yondan, and we had super fun together. This was the start of my Iaido career. I realized I had some talent for this, I had made good friends and it was a great positive reinforcement to me.

I am now 7th dan renshi in Iaido. I also have a Shodan grade in Jodo and Ikkyu in Ki no Kenkyukai Aikido.

What was the Iaido dojo scenario when you started?

In Shinken Kai in Gothenburg we would mostly practice the 10 ZNKR iai kata, as this was before number 11 and 12 were added. Our group was about ten people and practiced twice a week. We rented a small gym hall at a school and would stand in the door waiting for the clock to turn seven and then barge in to use every minute of our time. After some basic exercises, Jhonnie would stand in the front and the others on a line and we did the kata from 1 to 10 on command. For each turn you would get one or two comments but we mostly practiced kata together in silence. It became an almost meditative state after a while. 

Since the practice was somewhat strict I was almost in shock the first time we went together to a seminar in Stockholm and the six hours in the car were a non-stop of jokes, roasts and pranks. I was the youngest in the group and it was lovely to get to know these wonderfully weird people, Jhonnie, Raili, Rolf and not the least Lennart Johansson who was old enough to be my grandfather but incredibly fun and interesting to talk to. Lennart continued to practice Iaido in an impressive way far up in his eighties, even when he had lost the most of his eyesight. He sadly past away in 2015 at the age of 92.

This that may reveal how old I am, but it’s astonishing what a difference the Internet has made. Before Internet, everything was harder to get hold of. Budo clothes, swords, information. There were no web shops, no YouTube, no Wikipedia or websites with easy access information to find. Only a few books in English but these were mostly very limited. Most information was given from person to person. We made copies of copies of video tapes from seminars and watched them over and over again. Invitations to seminars were sent out by paper mail. To buy a good sword you had to convince someone going to Japan to buy one for you, until we got hold of a brochure from Tozando and the one person there that spoke English. Internet has had an enormous effect on the availability to information and stuff, with its pros and cons of course.

Martin Lindgren Sensei

What is Iaido to you, its meaning, what does it offer you?

This is difficult to put down in words. Why do you find some things enjoyable or not? As I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t very impressed with Iaido at first but continued mostly to have something to do. But when I had to take a break from training because of lot of studies, I realised that I really missed it and found myself practicing at home. I found the movements relaxing, exciting and intriguing, all at once.

I believe that the focus Iaido demands helps me to disconnect from stress and worry, all the clutter of everyday life. It gives me recovery.

As years have passed, all the fun and kind people I have met and gotten to know through Iaido are a bigger and bigger reason why I look forward to seminars and competitions. Iaido has given me friends from all over the world, which is much more valuable than any medals or diplomas.  I can’t mention all of my Budo friends I appreciate, the list would be too long, but would like to mention Matti Pajaujis who’s become a close friend both in Iaido and at a personal level.

Who is your sensei, what ryu, how did you get in contact with?

I am a student of Takao Momiyama sensei, who is a direct student (Jikimon) of Ishido Sensei. I practice Muso Shinden ryu and Zen Ken Ren iai

When my studies in Gothenburg were finished in 1999 I got a job in Norway. Jhonnie were rarely in the dojo after 1996 due to personal reasons and Komaki sensei had more or less stopped teaching koryu, but had invited Kimura Sensei to Sweden to teach Hoki ryu. I studied Hoki ryu for about a year but decided that I wanted to stick to Muso Shinden ryu. I had also started to feel that I needed a change to develop my Iaido the way I wanted. After 2000 I took a break from the national team for a couple of years were I mostly practiced by myself to take stock. Around 2002 I went to Gothenburg to talk to Jhonnie and I got his permission to become a student of Momiyama Sensei, who accepted me as his student and has taken care of me ever since. 

Martin Lindgren Sensei

Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with your sensei? How did it start? How did it evolve?

In my very first Iaido competition in Gothenburg 1995, something strange happened. When I was all finished and about to leave the building, some Japanese guy caught me and asked me where I trained. When I told him that I trained for Jhonnie Martina, he said ‘Good! Copy him. Just copy him. One day, I’ll say something else, but until then just copy him!’ I had never seen this person before, but of course it was Momiyama Sensei. A few years later, when he found out that I had moved to Norway, he said ‘That’s a pity. I had planned for you to reach sixth dan, maybe even seventh.’ And I wasn’t even his student at that time! But that’s what he’s like. He always makes plans and long-term strategies. So somehow it felt natural to eventually become his student.

We have always lived far away from each other, though. Momiyama Sensei lives in the southernmost part of Sweden while I live more than 1,000 km north. I would have been closer to him if I lived in London or Zurich. So we have always had a kind of long-distance relationship. We mostly see each other on seminars and taikais. I will get some points to work with and I work on them in my home dojo. Sometime I send him videos to get feedback. 

Before my 6th dan exam I stayed at Momiyama sensei’s place for a week and practiced from morning to evening while he taught and fed me. After the second day I was seriously contemplating just giving up Iaido and just do something else. I felt like I had been picked apart into pieces and that my Iaido was nothing but rubbish. In the end of the week when I had done an embu for Sensei, he said ‘It would be kind of strange if you didn’t get rokudan’ and I felt some hope again. I went home and spent a few weeks getting the pieces we had worked on together and then succeeded at my exam. It can be very demanding to train for Momiyama Sensei when he has that kind of focus on you, but also very rewarding. 

Nowadays I feel like we have a more relaxed relationship but he has still a lot to teach me. We can practice hard in the dojo but also laugh a lot together. But he’ll never allow me to become too relaxed and he continues to push me forwards, in a good way. I cannot emphasize enough how much he has meant for my development in Budo.

Martin Lindgren Sensei

When was your first time in Japan, do you still train in Japan?

Due to a combination of family, work and economy it has been difficult for med to go to Japan as much as I would like. I was there in 2012 together with Matti Pajaujis to practice for Ishido Sensei in Kawasaki and to see the Kyoto Taikai and the 8th dan examinations. It was a great experience to spend time in Ishido dojo and I learned a lot. Ishido Sensei is very good at teaching and is understanding to Western people who don’t know much Japanese and all the traditional ways. 

In Ishido dojo, I was impressed by the openness and the warm and including atmosphere. Everyone was welcome, independent of age or level. 

I had a trip booked to Japan and Ishido dojo again when the pandemic hit. I hope to go there again soon.

Martin Lindgren Sensei

How do you think kendo, iaido and jodo and their relation influenced your overall budo development?

While I appreciate Kendo and think it’s fun, I must admit that I have never practiced Kendo regularly. I have usually trained more than just Iaido, like running, weight lifting, climbing, etcetera, but have never had the time to fit in Kendo as well.

I have practiced Jodo now and then, on and off, because of lack of time or lack of a present teacher. I find Jodo more difficult and less satisfying to practice alone, compared to Iaido. While I wish I had been able to do Jodo as much as Iaido during the years, that has just not been possible because of life.

What you get in Kendo and Jodo, but not in Iaido, is the natural feeling of distance, timing and to actually have an opponent physically in front of you. If you don’t practice Jodo or Kendo, it’s a good idea to really practice those parts specifically in other ways to develop that sense of distance and timing.

Martin Lindgren Sensei

What is the difference between Japanese teaching and Western teaching?

I believe that differs more from dojo to dojo than from Japanese to Western, at least from my limited experience from training in Japan.  

When did you start thinking about teaching and when did you actually start teaching?

Already when I returned from my first EIC in 1996, some guys from my Aikido club asked me to teach them some Iaido, so we added time in our training schedule for this. I was a very fresh Shodan. After a while most Aikido people dropped out so I offered beginner’s training for the student organization, which was a good way to recruit new people. After a while my group of students was bigger than Shinken Kai’s. When I moved to Norway in 1999 I asked Raili to take care of my student group, which she did and this group eventually became the Shobukan club in Gothenburg that is still very active. 

So, I have been teaching Iaido for a long time and I find it very rewarding when I can help others to develop, weather it’s beginners or more experienced iaidokas going for an exam or a competition.

Martin Lindgren Sensei

Has Iaido changed through the years and how?

I believe that Iaido, like all Budo, is ever evolving. Just look at some of the old films from the 60’s. Even very famous high grade Sensei’s Iaido looks almost sloppy compared to today’s. The standard in precision and focus is bigger but maybe at the risk of losing its connection to the application. But in some sense we have to accept the fact that Iaido today is an art rather than a way of fighting, and has been for many decades. And as an art it will keep developing, while the roots are still there.

The changes made in the Zen Ken Ren Iai kata through the years gives me the impression that it’s developing more and more into its own ‘school’ and not just a bunch of techniques picked from different ryu.

Martin Lindgren Sensei

How is your typical Iaido lesson?

That really depends on the group; how many we are and what level they are. Right now, we are a small group with experienced people. We do some warming up and basic exercises together but then everyone mostly work on their own. Sometime we focus on some special aspect or kata together. 

I usually do the ZKR kata or the Shoden series of Muso Shinden ryu slowly as a warmup, focusing on relaxing and proper technique, before I go on with more full-focus kata training. For periods I focus more on relaxing and calibrating my technique, sometimes I focus more on focus and application of the katas.

Do you think non Japanese Iaidoka can truly understand the culture and “philosophy” behind Iaido?

I really do not know, but perhaps? Of course, there are aspects of the Japanese culture that anyone that hasn’t grown up in Japan will have difficult to fully understand. But Iaido is a rather special interest to have even in Japan. By practicing this interest full of Japanese culture and traditions regularly we can definitely get some grasp of it and use that understanding in our Budo and in our everyday life. It seems to me that many younger Japanese people have difficulty in truly understanding the culture and philosophy behind Iaido.

Martin Lindgren Sensei

What do you think about the future of European Iaido?

I believe it is very bright! The quality of Iaido in Europe has grown a lot since my first EIC. There are several strong connections to really good Senseis in Japan from different koryu, and the amount of 6th and 7th dan Iaidokas in Europe that teach and keep a high level is getting really big. All the work the first generation of European iaidokas have really borne fruit and the younger generations can enjoy that now. The interest for Iaido seems to keep growing. It’s amazing to see all these new people showing up at the EIC showing really nice Iaido. They seem to just keep coming!

What would you suggest to young and beginner Iaidoka?

Have fun and be patient! Focus on the basics and get that right before you go on to the more advanced stuff. That said, playing around can be pretty useful also, when done safely. When I was a student I had a small stuffed animal hanging in a door opening in my small apartment. I tried to hit the sheet with washing instructions with my bokuto when I had a break in my studies or waited for my noodles to boil. Find ways to practice basics and play around to get to know the sword as your practice tool. Study how to use technique instead of force.

Listen to your teacher and ask when you are unsure about what to do. Should you try for your next grade or go to an interesting seminar you found? Ask your teacher! Have you watched a YouTube video where someone says that you have to do a technique differently than what you’ve learned? Ask your teacher! It’s fine to seek information from books and the Internet, but you have to be source critical and check if what you see or read applies to your line of practice.   

Martin Lindgren Sensei

What is a budo teaching you particularly like transmitting?

My first teacher Jhonnie Martina taught me early about ‘saya no uchi de katsu’, to win with the sword in the scabbard. That the aim of Iaido is not to kill or even defeat a lot of enemies, but that the victory is in not having to draw your sword. A long time ago, sword training may have been to win war or fights, but is now to cultivate yourself. 

Is there any funny Iaido anecdote of your life you like to remember?

Lots, really! But not all of them are suitable for this forum, I’m afraid.

One incident was a practice competition we had during a seminar in Sweden, maybe around 2000. We practiced refereeing as well as competing and took turns to compete and referee. Even though it wasn’t a real competition we tried to do everything properly and seriously. We had especially talked about sitting on the very front part of the chair when refereeing. When I was up as a competitor and Leif Sunje, now an Iaido godan, was head referee. He stood up and called ‘Hajime’ but when he sat down he was just a bit too far away from the chair so the chair slid back and Leif fell on his butt to the floor. Everyone froze, trying hard not to laugh. The referee sitting in front of me looked very much like the Roman soldier in the Monty Python ‘Biggus Dickus’ scene. After a second Lennart, the old man from Gothenburg, loudly called out ‘Holy sh’*t!’ and everyone broke down in laughter and it took a while until we could refocus and start the match again, stomachs hurting from all the laughter.

There are loads of funny Iaido anectodes, but I’ll save them to when I see you next time!

Martin Lindgren Sensei

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