Why hello there!
I was surprised to find how many Japanese martial art blogs there are when I first started searching, so I am glad you ended up at this one. If you have any question regarding the Japanese words used, please check the bottom of this post for a brief glossary.
Let’s see, what should I go on about today… How about the two basic rules of Iaido:
Don’t get cut, and cut.
During my first trip to the AUSKF Iaido Summer Camp in 2017, the sensei and senpai there provided plenty of feedback with an overarching theme: Your iai is like a robot pausing after each move, and your cuts are not cuts. In other words, your opponent has ample opportunity to cut you, and you will not cut them. Both rules of iaido BROKEN and I’m dead!
Anderson-sensei appreciated this feedback and moved to focus on these pain points. I like to think this meant we were technically proficient enough in our seitei iai to move on to these issues, but that’s just my ego talking 🙂
In any event, how do we improve upon these concerns?
Don’t get Cut
Anderson-sensei had us make our kiai audible and powerful. This was a deviation from our typical kiai as it is normally quiet, but this turned out to be a useful tool to improve our breathing. We begin our audible kiai when the kata begins, and strengthen it when we strike, trying to make a single breath last the entire kata. This forced us to move through the kata with little pausing for the simple fact that we run out of breath if we stop. Now we were much harder for the enemy to hit because we gave them fewer openings and less time to respond. **
The second issue was our inadequate cuts.
What sensei taught us next can best be summed up with this anecdote. We went down to Des Moines Iaido in Iowa for a seminar led by my sensei this past August. One of their students asked for advice on how to enter seiza. He found it easier and more relaxing to open his leg up to the side as he went down, but that was different from what he was being taught. In response, Anderson-sensei brought another student to sit in seiza in front of the standing inquisitive student. Sensei pointed at the seated student, looked at the standing student, and said
‘He is trying to kill you. Now sit in seiza.’
And wouldn’t you know it, his entry to seiza was much improved.
What does this mean? This means that when you begin a kata, the enemy must be right there with you.
Before we perform a kata, we take a moment to breathe and place an opponent(s) in the room with us who plans to kill us. As we move, we must also move the opponent as they strike or retreat. This visibly made our cuts more accurate and improved our cutting power. We were actually cutting through someone in our mind’s eye.
These are important principles that I find useful in all of my iai. I am far from mastering even these basic points, but now I know how I can improve: Don’t get cut, and cut.
**Note: This is not to say we rush through the kata. We still consider proper timing, our zanshin, and a jo-ha-ku approach. The latter two of these will likely be the subject of future blog posts.
Senpai = senior student
Kata = sequence of moves
Iai = synonymous with Iaido
Kiai = spirit. In this case, inaudible or audible breathing/shouting.
Seiza = traditional Japanese seated position. Sitting on the tops of your feet and knees with your legs together.