Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Iaido for Real

Last Saturday was a terrific day for me. I had the great privilege of attending an Iaido seminar that was, in reality, a five-hour-long private lesson. Absolutely amazing!

On Saturday morning, I hopped in my car with my bag of clothes, my sword, my passport, and some bottled water. Two hours later, I was at Tallack Martial Arts in Kingston, Ontario. It's a really, really nice place to train. I can't tell whether it was originally a home or whether they built it specifically for their needs, but it's got two great training floors with tatami mats, plus a third room that's all bamboo laminate which is nothing short of gorgeous. If I'm ever involved in designing a dojo, I'll definitely look to incorporate some of what they've done at Tallack's.

Anyway, I met one other fellow - Brian, from Perth - in the parking lot on the way in. He also had a weapon bag with the distinctive shape of a katana. We knew right away that we were both there for the same thing.

I put on my full regalia. I'd picked up a traditional-style keikogi top in dark blue, and a hakama of the same color, as well as a wide, thin Iaido obi. I've been using them the last several weeks to train and it really made a huge difference in the feel of the techniques not to have my sword slapping around all over the place because my narrow karate belt couldn't hold it in place properly.

My biggest concern going into this seminar was that I'd taught myself some bad habits over the last two months. I've diligently practiced what I could remember from my first three-hour-long seminar, but I knew I'd forgotten some things and mis-remembered others. I would find those concerns justified. I'd forgotten quite a bit, as it turns out, and there was a fair amount that I was doing wrong.

It didn't really matter, however. Davis Sensei started us right at the beginning, basically as if we'd never learned any Iaido at all before. Which, really, we hadn't. I mean, in the grand scheme of things, three hours is negligible.

He began with how to walk into the room - how to hold the sword, where to bow, and where to go with the sword to set it down while warming up. He taught us the proper way to kneel down and set the sword by the correct wall. It's all very precise, very formal, very proper. In fact, that describes all aspects of Iaido - precise, formal, proper. Not to mention detailed and efficient.

That describes the next five hours, in fact - precise and detailed. We worked stances. We worked movement. We practiced drawing and sheathing our swords over and over and over again (a tiny, miniscule taste of the amount of practice it will take to do it correctly), focusing on the movement in a way Davis Sensei hadn't even attempted to convey to the full group at the first seminar I'd attended. Back and forth across the floor we'd walk in small gliding steps or shuffling half-steps. Back and forth we'd turn, again and again - a quick, efficient turn that kept you in line with enemies on both sides. In and out our blades would slide, snicking out of the saya (the scabbard) and back in again.

Later we worked some waza (techniques, sort of like kata. Actually, I'm not clear what the difference is between a waza and a kata. I need to look that up.), both standing and kneeling. I fear I don't remember them all fully. That's okay, though. I could easily spend the next month or two just practicing my stances, my movement, and the drawing of the blade and feel that I've spent my time productively. Those are, after all, the foundation on which the rest of Iaido is built.

Next year around this time, Davis Sensei has said that the Japanese masters will be coming to Ontario for the annual Canadian Iaido Association seminar and grading. According to their website, it takes one year of training to test for shodan. If Davis Sensei believes I'm ready, I'd like nothing better than to test at that time. And if I'm not... well, then I'm not. But I'll know a year's worth of Iaido that I don't know today, and that's enough for me right now.

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