The 2 Rules

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. **

Cut
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.

In conclusion
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.

Glossary:
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.

Book Learning for Iaido?

I’ve seen several FB videos and posts of people doing iaido the last few weeks to varying degrees of maturity and accuracy. One fellow admits he’s only learned from videos, and has mixed things up a bit without having a sensei or a consistent style to base it upon, though he’s calling it “seitei.”

Another, a self-proclaimed Master steps through some kata to which he’s changed some of the basic techniques, and moves through them with no consciousness of the opponent(s) of whom he’s supposed to be reacting to, no timing or grace. There’s no depth of practice, though he boasts years of experience and some level of mastery.

Maybe I’m too critical, after all my own iaido could easily be criticized on various levels and faults found. I know I have a long list of things to work on and improve.

Kihon, breathing, posture, timing, “presence” all come from experience and time practicing with someone to correct you – putting in the time with a heart set to listen, apply, and learn.

I think that learning from books and videos as a supplement to receiving instruction from a sensei is absolutely possible and encouraged – as long as the materials are accurate and detailed. But without that initial “introduction” to something, say jo, it would be very hard to capture the essence of jo. Without getting swung at in tachi-uchi by the Uchidachi, it would be very hard to capture the reaction and timing in a video. Without having a sensei to say, “Show me,” and then getting points for improvement, is improvement to a higher level even possible?

I don’t know what inspired me to write this, or where it’s even going, except maybe to say, “Find a sensei, or at least go to a seminar or something on occasion to get the “real” thing. If you can, stick with them and attend regularly. Then study the writings and the videos to “tune a bit,” but make sure they’re the right videos and not just guys doing iaido. Stick with one style. Then get back with a sensei again. And most of all, have a heart that is humble and open to being corrected. Practice without distraction and with an attitude of not just “doing” the moves, but with thinking why and how you’re doing the moves. Execute, analyze, repeat. Get some feedback. Take to heart that feedback. Then execute, analyze, repeat again.

Then, maybe someday you’ll be able to execute one of the kata you’re practicing to your satisfaction.