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Also this month, we are going on with Iaido seventh European dan’s interviews.
One day after his birthday (3rd April 2023), we are publishing the interview with Peter Röder Sensei, renewing his Happy Birthday wishes from the whole Kiryoku team.
Let’s start with some background information. Can you tell us a bit about yourself? When and where were you born?
I was Born in Wolfenbuettel, Germany (small city about 60km east of Hanover) 3rd April 1974.
What got you interested in Iaido, and how did you know it was something you wanted to commit to? What grade are you at now, and do you practice any other disciplines?
Started budo in May 1993 in the Dojo where I’m still training (LoewenDojo.de).
First I only did Kendo about maybe half a year after I started Iaido. Around 1998 first Jodo seminar with René van Amersfoort and others in Dortmund.
Kendo grade… not totally sure but something like 1st or 2nd Kyu.
Jodo grade… Nidan.
Iaido grade… Renshi Nanadan.
What was the Iaido dojo scenario when you started?
There was no Iaido or Jodo at all!
The “sensei” was a 2nd Kyu Kendo (in Germany we started with 6th Kyu and had to wait 6 month between each kyu grading).
One day a sempai came back from a Kendo seminar where he saw someone doing Iaido. That was the first time anyone from the dojo saw Iaido. We were a crazy group with a lot of fun and somehow we thought we would do proper Kendo… and later the sempai and I were the only ones who trained Iaido next to the Kendo group. We “knew” 7 kata from ZNKR and had no idea that there were 3 more. One day the sempai came back from his first Iaido seminar and he showed me 5 new kata. I was so happy but I had no idea that these were the Toho from ZNIR 🙂
What does Iaido mean to you? What does it offer you personally and as a martial artist?
From the first moment Iaido touched my heart/soul in a way Kendo and Jodo were never able to. The movement, the meaning of the kata, the philosophy… just everything makes me happy and it still does after 30 years! The sempai of my group are already with me around 15-20 years. Being connected to these people is an unbelievable gift in my life! And all the people I met during the years in Europe and globally were a huge valuable gift in my life.
There are so many stressful days, especially during the weeks because of a lot of work but leaving the normal life behind me and leaving home for training is sometimes really hard because my couch is kind of magnetic to me. But the real joy comes on the way home after training when I’m feeling tired but relaxed to start the next working day.
Who is your sensei, what ryu do they practice, and how did you get in contact with them?
My sensei is René van Amersfoort from NL in the line of Ishido Sensei from Kawasaki. As mentioned above I first met him around 1998. After that Jodo seminar we lost each other for a few years but since 2005/6 I joined a lot of his seminars and later became his student.
So I’m learning ZNKR and MSR in Ishido sensei’s lineage.
Can you give us some insight into your relationship with your sensei? How did it start, and how has it evolved over time?
First, he was “just” a seminar teacher but when I prepared myself for Godan I realized that I was already using mostly his teachings to train myself. So the next step was already clear to ask him to become his student. Since then we have a very trustful friendship and it is evolving every(!!) year.
All these years ago it was just a natural decision who to follow. Now I can say it was one of the smartest decisions I made in my life! Thank you so much René sensei!
When was your first time in Japan, and do you still train there? How do the Japanese feel about foreigners in their dojo, and do you have any memorable experiences you’d like to share?
My first trip was in 2002 but only for vacation. No budo training at all.
Unfortunately my last trip to Japan was in 2012. After that it was just not possible due to other important things in my life (job, relationships etc.).
How have practising kendo, iaido, and jodo influenced your overall budo development? How do these practices relate to each other?
I never trained anything else so I can’t say.
Watching other budo arts now – especially koryu budo – I’m not comparing anymore. I believe everything what still exist as a budo art can be valuable to individuals to train character and personality.
What is the main difference between Japanese teaching and Western teaching?
I met quite a few Japanese sensei who still teach groups just by repeating and copying.
Luckily Ishido sensei has a deep understanding of European people and so he is teaching us “modern” and in a way we can more easily understand.
And I try to stay as close as possible with my teachings to the things I learn from my teachers.
When did you start thinking about teaching Iaido, and when did you actually start teaching? Do you have a preference for teaching a specific class with unique requirements (kids, competitors, grown-ups, etc.)?
I started teaching about 3 weeks after my Ikkyu grading 🙂 because no one else was left from the iaido group at that time. So you can imagine I teached a lot of bulls**t. I have no idea but somehow I managed to stay on the right track during the years and people wanted to learn from me knowing that I have to idea what I was doing 🙂
Mainly I learned Iaido due to pictures which were put in my head. By using these and creating my own pictures I developed and that’s a huge part of my way of teaching. Giving people a picture, idea, reason that they can create a meaning of the movement inside of them to develop.
How has Iaido changed over the years, in your opinion?
I’m not sure if it really changed since I started. ZNKR is slightly changing nearly every year in certain details and even if everyone is not really liking some new interpretations of whatever details, at the end it is keeping all of us kind of flexible in the body and more important in our minds.
This I really like.
In superficial way maybe our Iaido is becoming a bit more technical but if someone is digging deeper and like to achieve a higher grade only relying on technical things it just not enough!
Can you walk us through a typical Iaido lesson with you? What are some key components you focus on?
Stretching and warming up. Focus on Kihon and Suburi. ZNKR. Koryu.
Do you think non-Japanese Iaidoka can truly understand the culture and “philosophy” behind Iaido? How do you approach teaching these aspects to your students?
No. 🙂 We are not Japanese people and we didn’t grow up in the Japanese society.
But we can try… and there are so many great examples in Europe – students and teachers, I believe we are doing great to make the best out of our possibilities. At the end this question was never important for me personally. I just want to train what makes me happy. I love to develop myself and even more to see how my students are developing!!!
What do you think about the future of European Iaido? Where do you see the practice heading in the next few years?
Compared to 20 years ago Iaido in Europe is much brighter thanks to all the great teachers from the first generation which brought teachers, teachings and new things with them from Japan!
I’m sure that the European Iaido will be even much brighter in the future. People will choose other teachers and maybe even new Koryu which are now not existing in Europe.
What advice would you give to young and beginner Iaidoka just starting out?
Have fun! Don’t care about making mistakes. Just enjoy the ride and all philosophical and meaningful things will come to you and in your mind when the time is right.
Is there a particular budo teaching that you enjoy transmitting to your students?
Relax, take your time and prepare… for example after spending energy in Nukitsuke take your time to restore energy to be able to make a sharp cut.
Lastly, do you have any funny or memorable Iaido anecdotes you’d like to share with us?
You already read that I knew only 7 Kata from ZNKR after I started a while. A Kendo highgrade that time joined the Kendo training one day and saw me doing Iaido. He told me that there will be a Iaido seminar with a teacher from The Netherlands and this guy is a Rokudan Iaido (this happened maybe around 1995/6).
I was instantly motivated and I tried to call someone from that Dojo (this was all before Internet :-)).
At the end I joined this seminar knowing that the 7 Kata I already knew were trained. The Dutch teacher was Louis Vitalis sensei. I never heard the name before and this crazy teacher started out of nothing with Hasegawa Eishin Ryu… Hase what?!?!?! (German joke Hase means rabbit).
I was the only participant who never heard before of this Hase-thing. After the first training I knew all 10 Chuden kata and Louis Sensei forced the group to train Hayanuki (all 10 kata trained as one long one) at his(!!!) speed for maybe 1 or 2 hours.
I was not able to take any stairs for the next week, seriously NOT exaggerating! And I still don’t know why I ever joined a seminar again and maybe even more stupid why René Sensei became my direct teacher years later…