Added with permission from Kim Taylor Nanadan (CKF) Iaido, Rokudan (CKF) Jodo and Niten Ichi Ryu Shidoin, January 2023
If you know how to do Seitei Iai, be happy and skip this essay. Seriously.
I continue to be stunned at the ability of folks to comment on video demonstrations of Seitei Gata iaido. I shared an old video of a senior teacher and there were comments remarking that “it wasn’t what we do now” and “not what I was expecting” and “I’m disappointed”. This fellow is largely responsible for “what we do now”. It’s Seitei iai, it really is. There is “a correct way” to do this stuff right? Right, if you’ve only ever seen one sensei who has told you what that correct way is. Unfortunately, I’ve seen dozens of “top guys” doing this stuff, I’ve been in the same room with them. That means I can only have an opinion on what the “correct way” is, because I’ve seen dozens of “correct ways”. I can’t say what the correct way is, I’m no longer a beginner with one single voice in my head.
One of the comments was that he’s dropping his tip like Jikiden and you’re not supposed to drop your tip ever. Oldest argument ever you mean. I’ve practiced with that person demonstrating and he spent about five years going around the world telling people that you can have the tip below the hands after you stick the sword into people and turn away. Since he was the chair of the iaido committee in Japan at the time I figure he gets to call it. Yet here, in our little backwater of Canada, we had some of our senior folks refusing to do this “dropping of the tip” all through those 5 years, even when explicitly told to do it.
It’s an opinion. Just an opinion, but what confuses people is that we don’t vote on this stuff, the top guy gets to have an opinion, we can have an opinion too, but if our opinion differs from the top guy, ours is wrong. That’s the way this stuff works.
But have no fear, your opinion may be correct when the next top guy comes along, this stuff cycles around. Already the tip is coming up again.
What’s the correct way? Well, I have my opinion, based on reading the manual and also on what works. The manual says the tip is not below the hilt at furi kaburi. It does not say “always”, if it did, the finish of the cut would be above the hilt. The chiburi would finish with the tip above the hilt. No, what you’re discussing now is just what is meant by furi kaburi. I have my opinion on that, based on a definition given to me by a hanshi and it’s not the same as what most people define furi kaburi. Fortunately for everyone except my unfortunate students, my opinion doesn’t count.
For those who have been practising Seitei Gata for decades, we’ve seen things come and go. Do it slowly, no you just died, you’re too slow. Look at your opponent first, no, if you look first he will see you and avoid being cut, turn and look all the same time.
On and on. In my opinion I’m really happy I’m out of the grading grind and I don’t have to deal with this any more. I will happily teach whatever I was last taught. I will do whatever the sensei up front of the class tells me is correct. I will listen to my senior students tell me the current way, and I will defer to them in class… “what was that point again, are we looking or not looking this month?”
I have no problem flopping around because it’s all practice and I’m not stressing out about what the panel wants to see. My unfortunate students are, but I’m not their mom, they go to seminars all over the world so they can create their own stress and share it with each other. I will simply do whatever I’m told last, I’m happy with that. I can do it the way it was demonstrated in that video, have done.
So why would I repost a video of one of the top guys demonstrating Seitei Iai ten or twenty years ago? Precisely because he was doing it differently than it’s done today, even though he’s one of the guys who defined what it is today. I was actually putting it out there for my students to look and see that this stuff wanders around, that “correct” is often just an opinion. We learned this a very long time ago. We would have our yearly seminar with Haruna sensei and he would do something different this year than last. We would change/correct it. Then a few years later he would be doing it the same way he taught us originally. This brought us to “if you don’t like it, wait a couple of years and it will cycle around again”. Why would that have bothered us? We never thought there was a “correct way”.
The thing is, Haruna sensei wasn’t just noodling around, he was plugged into the system, he was giving us what the top-top guys were giving the top guys.
You actually can perform Seitei Iai “wrong”, despite what I’ve said about it wandering around. You can be right or wrong because you are challenging a grade. If you fail, you were wrong. If you pass, you were correct. You don’t get points for close, it’s not horseshoes.
You see, you don’t need an opinion, you don’t need to think about this stuff, you just need to do it like it’s done this month. You can’t pass today with a performance that would have passed ten years ago. You don’t get an opinion on it.
It’s actually pretty simple. In my opinion.
Feb 20, 2020