Tall but short – Feb 28, 2014, Kim Taylor, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan

You can’t be exclusive and inclusive. Yet there are many out there in the koryu who bemoan the lack of students but on the other hand insist that the lineages stay pure, the videos stay private and the students stay quiet. There’s also a lot of fascination (probably from those who aren’t “in” but read a lot) with blood-oaths and other paper. I know it’s always been that way but after a generation of exposure to the west you’d think the secret society aspect would be wearing a bit thin.

Me, I made a promise a very long time ago that I would teach anyone who shows up in front of me. That’s the way my teachers taught so that’s my system. Nothing to hide, nothing hidden, it is what it is as the saying goes. (Where did that come from, I’ve heard it a lot lately but I can’t remember who started it, or is it one of those recent cultural memes that I missed?).

I keep running into comments about some old iaido films that have shown up on youtube. “Those were obviously never meant for public consumption” is the common opinion, but son, I beg to differ. The age of 8mm film was not the video-saturated world of today. It took some serious effort to record something once upon a time, and any instructor who posed for such a film would likely be delighted that his iai is still being watched today. The effort put into recording back then meant these were not un-prepared bits of stolen vid on someone’s cell phone. There would be no missing the camera whirring away in the same room. Nothing stealth about it. So why would a major sensei want that film suppressed? His students maybe, certainly. Who wouldn’t want a record like that all to themselves? “I’ve got it so I’ve got the inside info and you don’t”. I recall a time when one of my sensei found out that I had a fourth-generation VHS copy of an 8mm film of one of his sensei. His comment was that the film was held quite firmly by the family but I somehow got hold of it in VHS so it was copied over somewhere along the line. Perhaps for a special family friend? I don’t know and don’t much care because I’m pretty sure everyone is now deceased, while the film has made its way to younoob for an entire new generation to watch. I really hope it stays there because it’s worth a look for anyone in my line.

Secrets? Special techniques? Not really, I am actually pretty amazed that these many lines of iai perform the kata in pretty much the same way, and with the existance and distribution of these old films, the slow drift apart of various lines will slow down considerably. Isn’t this what we all want? To pass along the kata unchanged to our students? Won’t publicly available film help with this?

Sure, few people want video of their mistakes out there, just because I find my own video-taped boo-boos funny is no reason to assume others want to see theirs, but ALL video is bad? Silly really. We have a great source of history in our hands, but it’s digital, and so perhaps even more fragile than that 8mm film. One copy on one person’s hard drive and all it takes is a single crash to lose a valuable record. Even putting it in “the cloud” won’t save it if there isn’t a culture of downloading and backing it up.

Of course, all this secrecy makes sense if we want to be exclusive and practice rare arts in windowless dojo with bans on cellphones. But seriously, how do we brag about how great our arts are to those “outside” if they never see what we do? Secrets get no bragging rights.

Me, I’m happy to see any video of my silly-arse flailing around. The more the merrier.

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