Rules and Intents, Kim Taylor, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph, Nanadan, Aug 4, 2013

Recently a train full of what was supposed to be crude oil rolled down a hill in Quebec and blew up, killing several people. As a result someone is going to “look into the rules” surrounding the situation. I very much suspect we will see a change something like “If you are going to leave a train parked on a hill set some manual brakes” to “Set more manual brakes”.

The problem is, rules don’t ever work for everything, only for the last problem of the type we’re trying to fix. What we really need to look at is the intent behind the rule. An engineer that reads the current rules on leaving a train on a hill might just follow them exactly and still have a train roll down the hill. The intent behind whatever rule exists is something like “if you leave a train parked on a hill make sure you set enough brakes so that it doesn’t go anywhere.” Now if you look at it like that it seems blazingly obvious, but that sort of thing takes time and maybe the bosses who make the rules don’t want to pay you to take that time, maybe they figure their rules are good enough…

OK that’s a rather unfortunate story to get into my point, but it’s the one that prompted my thoughts on iaido, specifically on zen ken ren iai (seitei) and koryu.

Seitei iai is chock full of rules, what isn’t in the book is made up and shared and assumed to be “rules” anyway. There’s nothing that we don’t “rulify” about it. For instance, the book says “the tip (kissaki) should be above the hilt (tsuka) when the sword is over your head just ready to cut (furi kaburi)” Over the years we’ve extended that rule to say “the tip never drops below the hilt” which was of course always nonsense because there are places where the book says it does. In any case, the big wigs have spent the last several years going around the world trying to get us to stop performing awkward and inefficient movements to try and keep that tip up while moving from a thrust into another movement (pull it out keeping the tip up, now move it back and then lift it over the head always keeping the tip up… oops took too long trying to keep the tip up and my opponent just smacked me.

Seitei gata (standardized forms) are a very nice thing for a large organization to have. They allow lots of people to practice and “talk” together with a common language which can also be used to assess levels of skill and all that good stuff. But too many rules can create a legalistic view of life, where the rules become more important than the intent.

Just now outside the window of the cafe where I’m writing this I watched four people in a truck pull up to the light beside a bicyclist. The biker was going straight, the truck turning right. You guessed it, the light changed and both vehicles started to move.
The truck had to stop after damned near hitting the bike. Now I am watching as the guys in the truck are throwing up their hands in a WTF gesture at the “stupid biker”.

OK rules. You don’t pass on the right at an intersection (or anywhere else actually). So the worst happens and the biker is dead on the ground. The driver of the truck is not at fault because the biker broke the rules. OH, wait, the truck pulled up past the biker so now the truck passed on the left and turned right into the biker so now the biker is OK (legally) and the truck driver is at fault.

PLEASE. No matter what happens the truck driver, as the guy in control of the bigger weapon, is at fault no matter what. The biker has no chance no matter what rules he follows, right or wrong and a life is at stake. The INTENT of the rules are to prevent loss of life. Only a lawyer of the particularly legalistic bent (or being paid I suppose) would argue this case on the rules of the road for the truck driver. Am I saying the biker was in his rights to ignore the truck? Sure he was but rights have little to do with life in this case.

Union negotiator here for a couple of contracts. If you’ve been there you know the legalism that goes on when either side gets hold of some language in the contract that is ambiguous. It doesn’t matter what the original intent was, if you can twist the language to your advantage you do it.

A couple cents an hour in salary gained or lost isn’t life and death. Trucks and bicycles, trains and towns are. This is why we should not consider iaido as cosplay or even as a sport, if we do it doesn’t have much to teach us. We need to consider iai as life and death, as something that needs to be thought about seriously. There is no second round in the tournament in a real sword fight, no round robin, no loser’s side of the score sheet, only bleeding out on the ground. If we think this way we may start paying attention when riding on our bike in traffic… those people in metal armour all around us can grind us to a smear on the pavement and all we’ve got is a pocket knife to their howitzers. Consequences of actions, predicting the future, if I make three moves just to keep the tip up so that I am following some sort of rule, I lose my life. If I play grand theft Otto I don’t have any hesitation crashing my car into the pedestrians and the wall, I get another life. No consequences. I want to see a video game where if you die, the game erases itself and you don’t get to buy it to play it ever again. Call it “LIFE” or “biking on the road”.

If you want to get something beyond your next rank out of Seitei Gata iai, look for the intent behind the rules. You’ve got the book, you’ve got videos, you can work at it by yourself, figure out what the rules mean instead of memorizing and dancing them.

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