Some thoughts about Iaido

 

by Jackie

I had started Kendo about a year before I started Iaido. After my Kendo class, I used to watch the Iaido practice. I always thought it looked dignified and with purpose. Over the last year I had learned from Sensei the origins behind Kendo and why we do certain things. What always remained in my head was that we had to see the shinai as the sword. I found this very hard. While watching the Iaido, I could see how this applied. I wanted to feel the difference between the shinai and the actual katana, and perhaps feel the same way about my shinai. So I decided to start. At first I found the movements very difficult and was thinking more of the next move rather than what Iaido was about. I was very surprised how tired I got due to the mental concentration.  But after a long time, I have now found that Kendo and Iaido are linked. It as taken me a long time, but now I can ‘feel’ Iaido that I didn’t before. It feels beautiful, strong and with purpose, yet showing dignity and respect for the opponent. Kendo now looks and feels different for me since I started Iaido. Waving the bamboo stick around is not empty anymore, and I understand the significance of the strike in Kendo. I also understand the strong link with Kendo and Iaido in that we must always have an alertness of mind, and every movement has purpose.

There are still many things both in Kendo and Iaido that I find very difficult, but it is a life long path which I hope to continue. I wanted to start Iaido to enrich my Kendo experience. In turn it has given me the respect and meaningful aspect to Kendo, Iaido and many other aspects of my life.

Before Enshiki there are many points to think about. But they may come under two headings: etiquette and safety.

Etiquette is important, making sure we display correct etiquette we are showing that we are alert at all times to what we are doing. We should make sure that our clothes are not wrinkled and neat. This displays discipline and shows that we take the practice seriously. Before crossing the door to the dojo, we must stop and bow. In doing this we are accepting the fact that we now leaving the busy world outside, to concentrate on practice. This should be seen as the beginning of practice. Next we must pay respect to our Sensei. We should approach and bow, in doing this we are asking for his/her teaching that is to come. We then pay respect to our dojo members. Without them, we cannot learn or find our weak spots. We also bow and in doing so thank them in advance. Next we bow to Shomen. Rei to Shomen reminds us of where we are and what we are about to do. We also need to make sure that during seiza, we keep our senpai to the right of us. Our movements should be deliberate yet natural. Constant attention should be paid to our outward movements at all times. Therefore moving around, we should walk with control and politeness. Never slouch against a wall when standing. This displays laziness, not paying attention and an empty mind.

Safety is another important aspect to care for before Enshiki. We must inspect our katana before Enshiki to make sure it is clean and no parts are damaged. If we need to clean it, we must find a space where there are no people, away from the dojo entrance and sit down in seiza.We must be aware of our space within the dojo and others. We must always walk quietly behind others and never step over a katana. Stepping over a katana displays total lack of respect for the weapon. If others are practicing, we must wait quietly and then walk behind them when they have completed their kata. We must always keep our space between us and others especially when all are doing kata. Keeping in mind these points before Enshiki demonstrates alertness and spatial awareness so important to the practice of Iaido.

Seiza may be seen as a form of Rei. As a result, posture should be correct. Iaido teaches us to be mindful about our environment as well as our movements. This would suggest that movements be performed in a proper manner. Therefore we should be aware of our posture during seiza. Incorrect posture would suggest lack of spirit, Rei and sharpness of mind. To attain a correct posture we should sit in a kneeling position, but not resting totally on our heels. This gives our bodies a feeling of readiness to rise quickly and smoothly. Our backs should be straight but not unatural, with shoulders relaxed but open. We should have a feeling of our shoulder blades touching. Hands should be placed on the top of our thighs, with the fingers closed. Elbows should be tucked in touching our torso. In this way, the katana can be handled in the correct way. Our knees should be a fist-width apart to help us rise in a stable manner. Heads should be held naturally, with our eyes focusing on the ground, about 3 feet away, so we may see all that is around us. Seiza is not just a sitting position, it is a state of awareness of ourselves and our environment. If posture is not correct, we cannot attain this state of awareness. Rei means respect and discipline. Having the correct posture during seiza demonstrates that we have disciplined our bodies, and that we show respect to ourselves, our katana and our opponents.

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