I love the whooshing sound that a shinken blade makes as it cuts the air. The soundless drawing of the blade as it unsheathes with the skilled use of both hands that allows it to slip seamlessly from thesaya, the rapid expansion of the body causing the blade to power through the air and the way that theIaido practitioner slides along the Dojo floor on knees or feet with the suriashi (gliding step) movement, utilising the hakama sabaki to prevent tripping over the divided trousers gives a beautiful feel to this deadly art.
It’s spellbinding watching Sensei practice, his perfect erect posture with straight back and hakama folded neatly around him as he sits in seiza. The pregnant stillness before movement, the slight narrowing of the eyes as he identifies the opponent, the way he uses powerful thigh muscles to rise up with his head moving directly upwards as opposed to leaning forwards. I love the explosion of movement with the nukitsuke as he draws and cuts with one fluid move, the contraction and expansion of the kirioroshi, the major cut, the different swish of the chiburi to shake the blood off the sword and the smooth co-ordinated noto to return the blade back to the saya.
The whole form is performed with varying levels of awareness known as zanshin and these can be clearly seen at a normal level at the beginning, to a higher level at the identification of the opponent, at a high level during the form and gradually reducing after the opponent has been killed, returning back to normal after thenoto.
A voice from one the students who had been watching Sensei practice came from behind me…
“It looks good Sensei, but what’s the point?” Ken was definitely a pragmatist.
“What do you mean by ‘the point’?” Sensei asked.
“No one fights with a sword anymore,” Ken continued, and all that dressing up and cultural stuff isn’t even used in Japan anymore, so isn’t a bit pointless?”
“Depends on what you want from your training” replied Sensei.
“Surely everyone wants to learn how to defend themselves?” asked Ken.
“It still has relevance,” replied Sensei.
“How come?” asked Ken.
“Because you are training to the ‘Warrior Code’” answered Sensei. “The regimen of training on a daily basis, taking care of your weapon, your clothing, having respect for yourself and others helps you to develop into a strong character.”
“That’s not enough though is it?” It was more of a statement than a question from Ken.
Sensei hadn’t finished….. “The training is arduous and builds a character with strength, resolve and determination. The level of strength and fitness required is high and the mental requirements are that of a warrior.
By nature Iaido teaches satsu/katsu – life taking skills and life preserving skills, the reluctance to draw the sword is obvious at the beginning but when drawn, the sword is instantly used and highly effective. The strategies taught are those of the warrior.
As a complete Art the Iaido practitioner will learn the Arts of the sword, plus the sport of Kendo and the related Art of Jodo (4 foot staff against the sword) – therefore his weapons use and skills will be varied.
“Wouldn’t it be easier to just learn MMA or Self Defence?” asked Ken.
“Depends what you want,” replied Sensei. “The problem with learning just fighting is that it doesn’t suit a lot of people and some are worried that they will turn into that which they hate. Iaido is cultural, it is historical, but it’s an Art with a long history of warrior code and experience in developing the whole character that goes back beyond the 14th century, so it does have a long track record with value.”
“I see your point” said Ken, “not too sure whether I would do all that training for those results though.”
“Horses for courses Ken” replied Sensei – although I admire the tough sports like MMA, I wouldn’t want to do them either, that’s why the Martial Arts are a broad church with many ways for students to find their way through. The way I am now certainly isn’t what I was like 40 years ago, in my youth I would have been ‘taking the mickey’ out of me now….. luckily I’ve grown wiser with age and training.”
“So it’s an old man’s training system” asked Ken cheekily.
“Maybe in my case one for an older and wiser person,” answered Sensei – “ but it has no age relevance, some people will just be attracted to Iaido and some to Self Defence or MMA, some to Karate and some toAikido or Judo – we’re all different and should appreciate that ‘one size’ doesn’t necessarily fit all. We are all unique individuals – just like everybody else!”
I think the humour of the last statement escaped Ken…
“I’ve got to say that I’m not convinced it will be that effective,” said Ken..
“And that is why after club drinks and the internet are alive with endless discussion,” laughed Sensei.