2016 12 20 - 15:58

Quite recently, one of my fellow iaidoka was in parts foreign, and on his return (which happened to be on a class day), he came to the dojo from the airport rather than going home.

I think it gets like that for a lot of people. It becomes home, a refuge. It did for me. The day my mother passed away I went to class.

It has a way of smoothing out the rough edges in a way that nothing else can.

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2016 12 12 - 15:44

When I started Iai back in July of 2015, I had no idea what to expect.

I’d been out for a coffee with a friend who’d lived in Japan for 14 years, and mentioned to him in passing that I’d always wanted to learn how to wield a sword, but not in a combative sense. I have very poor eyesight, and even worse depth perception, so anything requiring either, is not in the cards for me. Fear not, kendoka and jodoka, you’re free of me. He mentioned Iaido to me, which I’d never heard of before. I looked it up when I got home, was in my first class three days later, and haven’t looked back. To be honest, I always assumed I’d end up having some medieval re-enactor teach me how to use a broadsword.

In all these months since, I think I’ve missed four classes in my home dojo – and one of them only because my sensei’s sensei summoned me and a fellow student right before grading so he could see how we were doing. He teaches the same night, in a different city, and I can’t fly, so there you are. I had to miss this week due to illness. It has become so much a part of my week, my life, that I cannot imagine my life without it. Missing class leaves me feeling a lot of off-kilter feelings. The week is not complete without class. I remember the first time I was handed an iaito, it was much like picking up a paintbrush (I’m an artist); I couldn’t imagine why it hadn’t been in my hand my entire life.

In conversation elsewhere, on something innocuous, with a group of other iaidoka, it suddenly hit me how many names are now familiar, how many faces I now recognise when I go to other dojos or events, and how there is (to me at least) a growing sense of belonging to something, a sense of camaraderie. I’m quite used to feeling isolated and outside of it, but that is not the case here – or is at least becoming not the case. It’s still weird for me, getting used to the idea of being part of something. I suspect I’ll feel ill at ease and surprised by it for a long while, but all things pass.

It’s all good.

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2016 12 01 - 15:49

In the first set of MSR koryu waza, there’s one called Junto. It approximates the movements one samurai would make when seconding another who’s committing seppuku – one form of ritual suicide. Essentially, your task as the kaishakunin, is to cut the samurai’s head off after he guts himself. You perform the killing stroke such that a flap of skin remains holding the head to the neck long enough for you to cut that so the head falls into a basket, and doesn’t roll away – which would be, to say the least, very poor form and would be dishonourable (or, if nothing else, would offend the witnesses to the suicide). You also do this to spare the samurai more pain than is necessary.

I know MJER has a similar waza, named Kaishaku. I can’t speak for MJER dojo traditions in how their version of this waza is handled, but in many MSR dojos (mine included) this is a waza we do not perform at demonstrations nor in front of outsiders – nor would one use this as a grading waza – out of respect for the samurai who performed it and who were the recipients of it. There are videos of Junto and Kaishaku on YouTube, however.

This is the only waza that, so far, has given me personal pause. Every waza is a form of defense or attack, but this one is a far more serious business. This one is neither. I did read somewhere that some do not consider it to be a waza at all, but more a form of etiquette. Every time I do it, I think about the people involved – the samurai who died, and the ones who delivered the killing strokes. It’s… sobering.

You can find videos of Junto and Kaishaku on YouTube.

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2016 12 01 - 14:55

At the end of class my sensei will sometimes ask if we have comments. Most of the time, odd as it may seem, I don’t. A lot of what goes on for me there, is stuff I can’t articulate, or don’t want to, and I don’t want to waste anyone’s time filling the air with something simply for the sake of doing so. The dojo is a very private place for me in an odd sort of way for a public room, so sometimes talking about it would be like inviting a stranger into my home to rifle through my underwear drawer. It’s exposure, and sometimes I just don’t want to be exposed.

Wednesday, though, I did talk – about how I feel about the whole idea of being there, especially after Saturday’s grading; about why I thought I might hit a plateau and stop.

I did not grow up with the idea of dedication. My grandparents were not driven people, and I did not discover much of a passion for anything outside books until I was an adult. That passion was art. Then, years later, after volunteering and working and all the things that life throws at you in one way or another, I discovered Iaido – and now, I cannot imagine my life without it. Sometimes I feel about my sword the way I feel about the paintbrush – I think, “Why hasn’t this been in my hand my entire life?”

Even less than being dedicated, am I comfortable with talking about feelings related to such matters, at least not without very careful curation of the audience. I am always, even at my age, worried that I’ll make a fraud of myself. I know myself very well in some ways, but in others I am… well, it’s more like I never feel comfortable in my own skin. I do not feel like ‘me’. In contrast to that, I am oddly willing to talk about absolutely anything – from the colour of my underwear, to my fallopian surgical procedure, to the name of my imaginary friend when I was five.

My sensei said, after I was done speaking, that it becomes a way of life. On that point he is absolutely right. There is something going on, and one of these days I might figure out exactly what that going on is.


On display

2016 12 01 - 14:52

I was not nervous on Saturday, in regards to performing the waza satisfactorily. I knew I would; or, rather, I wasn’t nervous that I wouldn’t. What did bother me was the idea of public performance. It is deeply uncomfortable for me. I do not like to be stared at; and that test is six and a half minutes of being stared at by six people whose sole purpose in life is to judge your every move.

Dislike of public performance is why I don’t sing in public, despite the fact that I know damned well that I’m beyond capable of singing well enough to do so. I don’t like being the centre of attention in that way. I did do an open mic one time a couple of years back, but I blew it I was so shaken.

I think, perhaps, that this is why I have no problem with people staring at, and judging, my art – which is pretty much the opposite of what most artists seem to feel. Look at my art, and hate it if you want, because at least you aren’t looking at me. I can detach myself from how people feel about my art; for that reason, and also because I know that out of six or seven billion opinions, negative ones are going to happen, and it’s all right if they do. It’s not possible for everyone to like everything, and you either get on board with that idea from the get-go, or get off the train.

art, iaido
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2016 11 27 - 14:45

Because I did my testing from a standing position, I was not allowed to use standing versions of waza that begin from seiza/tate-hiza, so that limits me to choosing from eight, one of which would be grossly arrogant of me to attempt (that’s number 11 of the seitei forms - it’s an advanced move). I did do number 10 though, which is complicated in its own way, and it turned out I was the only person testing for ikkyu that did it. This is an instructional video for number 10.

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2016 11 27 - 14:27

I was halfway through this long thing I was going to post about my Iaido grading, when I realised I didn’t really want to share too much of it publicly after all. I will say, though, that I thought that grading would be a plateau I’d hit and stop at, but all I want to do is get back into the dojo and do better.



2016 11 26 - 14:43

I passed!

I looked down once right after my first waza, to look for the tape – which should not do; and quickly after that I realised I lost the location of the tape entirely, but decided not to care. You have to not care at my level, if you lose the tape, because you can’t look down for it. Higher up, they’ll start caring a lot more about that sort of thing.

Basically, at this level, it’s all do the waza in order, don’t drop your sword, and don’t make a face. Even if you do the most spectacular screw-up, you might still pass if you show no reaction to it and just keep on going. I must have managed that one.

I did the waza in order. I did not drop my sword. And I am pretty certain I did not make a face.



2016 11 24 - 14:40

Sharing a gym with a kendo club, is like sharing your livingroom with a military onslaught, and its sound effects crew. It’s the next morning, and I still feel pukey from the headache I got last night from the noise. All things considered, I should have stayed at my home dojo; but when your sensei’s sensei beckons…

Also: To spend a year and a half having the zanshin beat into you, only to have someone try and beat it out of you again… not so simple!

When asked how it had gone, I said:

Not as well as I’d have liked. We were late because of traffic, so no real warm-up, and I felt very mistakey the whole time. Got a couple of good tips, but the noise from kendo was way too much for me, and made it hard to learn/think/absorb/etc.

In the well-over-a year since I first learned ganmen-ate, I have only gotten my saya stuck in my hakama once. Tonight? Four, maybe six times. It just wouldn’t stop.

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Ball sports

2016 11 23 - 14:35

These guys are standing around talking about ball sports, and all I’m thinking is, “Ha ha ha, I’ve got a sword.”

ball sports