Seitei iai last evening because the Pamurai is heading for Italy with the rest of the seniors who are off to grade. I have been a terrible instructor for the last few years and we need to tighten things up. Iaido is the place where we can work against an opponent, full force, with a real blade. No compromise, no pulling the techniques, no protective armour.
As such, iai requires a few things. First, isshin, zanshin or whatever you wish to call it, you require full concentration on every person and thing in the dojo from the moment you step in until the moment you leave. When doing your opening and closing etiquette you must look at the room, not your sword, not your sageo knot, not your hakama, the room and especially your enemy.
Fiddling with your equipment is no good, fiddling with your uniform is no good. Keep vigilant, this is where you learn that stuff.
This is where you learn about posture. A sword is not the “touch him and he dies” sort of thing some people think it is. You need to be in the correct position, with a correct grip in order to cut. You have to cut where you wish to cut, not just wave the thing around in the air. Musashi told us about the intentional hit and the accidental hit. During a sword fight it may happen that you hit your opponent with your sword, you may even kill him with it, but it was not an intentional hit. So what you say? You win the fight. This is true, it’s a good thing for you today, but in the long term it is not looking good for your survival unless you can make an intentional hit. To hit what you intend to hit. This difference was so important to Musashi that he dedicated the last half of his life to learning heiho. The first 30 years and 60 duels were, as he put it, maybe the result of luck, maybe the result of his opponents being crap. He did not accept that it was his skill that took him through.
Imagine that attitude from our sporting heros of today, it would not have been any less surprising in his time.
Be that way with your iai, each movement correct, with intentional hits every kata. Go into the meaning of the kata and understand why each movement is there. This practice, with no distraction from shinai swinging at you, without some beginner hanging off your wrist, is practice in connecting the tip of your weapon with the dojo floor. All power comes from the floor, everything you receive must be grounded back to that floor or you will collapse. The readjustment of your body during a kata, a competition or a fight must be automatic and correct or your opponent will be able to exploit those openings you leave as you move.
This is the immense benefit that iai has for other martial arts, the opportunity to examine your posture, your kamae. This is why I started my own practice, it was a place where I could study the posture that I could not achieve while doing Aikido. That fellow beginner hanging off my arm was too much distraction.
Somehow I have not passed this along to the current generation of students, so we took the first kata (Mae) and broke it down to the second level of time. Iai kata have four general times, nuki tsuke, kiri tsuke, chiburi and noto. The first two are the attacking phases and the last two the zanshin, the lingering awareness phase. No problem so far, but these four times are not single movements. There is time within time here.
Iai is, by definition, to cut from the scabbard. One puts the hands on the hilt, draws and cuts with no extra movements. It’s one thing… except that it is not. It can’t be, you can’t grip the blade while it is still seated in the scabbard. If you try (and beginners try) you will not cut, even if you can get the blade out of the scabbard. No, there are three times in this one time. You must open the blade (koiguchi giri) and push the hilt toward the opponent. That is one. Then you must, at saya banari (the moment you “break the scabbard and sword” like a branch) establish the grip by closing your hand. That is two. Then you move your arm across to cut, which is the third timing.
Each of the other three first order times have three second order times and, as the class quickly noted (they are not stupid, they simply have a stupid instructor) there are tertiary timings and even deeper.
How do you find these timings? Slow down. Speed covers a universe of openings in your budo. If I stand in front of you and say “I could get you there” and you say “try” and manage to cover that opening before I can get to it, that does not mean the opening is not there. It means I couldn’t get to it from where I was. If it exists, someone at some time will get through it. If it’s not there you never have to worry about being fast to cover it up.
Iai is done solo, practice as slow or as fast as you wish, it makes no difference, find the weakness of your posture, correct it until you don’t need to think about it any more. Feel the correct stance, don’t look at your back foot to see if it’s in the right place or not. Don’t look at the tip of your sword to figure out where it is.
And learn the time within time so that you are actually cutting. Iai is to cut from the saya, if you combine the second and third timing of nuki tsuke you will cut short or not at all. You must put the sword into your grip before you cut, if you try to cut before you have the grip you will fail. Yes it is a razor, yes it might, accidentally, by luck, cut your opponent, but this is not what you should be learning. When I see other students (not mine) in positions where they cannot connect the tip of the sword to the rear foot, I stay silent. It’s not my place to correct what they have, supposedly, been taught. But I should damned well be correcting my own students. Sure the sword is sharp, sure a poorly powered nuki tsuke will cut the skin on the forehead as long as the edge angle (hasuji) is “correct enough”. But that’s an accidental cut, not an intentional cut.
You cannot attack until you are attacking.
Oct 21, 2017
Oct 28-29 Peterborough koryu iaido, Ohmi sensei, Galligan and Taylor
I wish: Oct 27-29, Toronto Budokan Niten with Kajiya soke. Can’t make it but if you’re not going to Peterborough, attend this one for me.
Nov 17-19 Jodo Grading and Seitei/Koryu Seminar, Shiiya sensei and Kurogo sensei, past and present heads, jodo section ZNKR. Etobicoke, near the airport. http://seidokai.ca/jodo_fallseminar2017.html