Friday, December 01, 2006

More sword drawing

When I found the iaido demonstration at the yearly celebration of osensei's passing in 1992, I was motivated to continue my practice. It has been a rewarding and somewhat frustrating endeavor, however. I found out that my "I" had gotten so much stronger. I became very self critical and found myself making many mistakes. It is very easy to become skillful in most instances at a set practice or form. That's what makes it set. The more you do it the better you become. Iaido can be that,but, that's not what I find valuable in it.

I was taught the first draw from the front by Hikitsuchi sensei in late spring of 1973. He was an 8th dan in iaido. Linda Holiday was also present at that class. When I went back to Shingu in late summer of 1974, I was taught right, left, and back. He taught details, but what you took away from it was an intense energy and attitude. If you got the details but didn't get that, you got the booby prize. When I went back to the dojo in 1977, another teacher was teaching iaido after the morning classes and on Sundays. After a few lessons, I politely begged off more iaido lessons. What I realized was that the form was being taught, but, the energy and attitude I had gotten from the lesson from Hikitsuchi sensei would be diluted by the experience with the way the new instructor was teaching, or worse yet, lost. Now the new instructor was very skillful and kind, but, somehow, the lessons from Hikitsuchi sensei had a vitality to them, that seemed more important than just acquiring the knowledge of new forms. The new instructor was quite popular. A lot of dojo students went to the Sunday classes. One day Hikitsuchi sensei called me into his office and told me that he had heard that I was not attending the iai classes with the rest of the dojo. I told him I did not want to lose the edge, the vitalness that I had learned from him. He said he was happy and that he would teach me iai personally again. To set the record straight, I never got another iaido lesson from him, although there was instruction in sword to sword aikido practices.

What is the connection, if any, between aikido and iaido? Obviously, in iaido action explodes out of stillness and silence. Everything starts from the center and ends back at the center. The motion of drawing and sheathing the sword involves circular flows from the hips. But more important that anything else, the concept of zanshin or the continuing spirit is vital to both practices. Hikitsuchi sensei wrote out for me a short essay on aikido, iaido, and zanshin, which I had dojo members who were Japanese native speakers translate. Here is the link to the dojo website:

zanshin article

I was taught entirely with bokken. Later, when I returned to America, I started practicing with, first a non-sharp metal sword with case, then with a sharp sword.The sharp sword I thought initially was a "dummy' blade without an edge. I had no problem with it. When i realized that it was very sharp, I cut myself repeatedly when I was re-sheathing it. As I settled a bit more, I stopped cutting myself. The blade I now use has an edge, but is far from razor sharp.

I personally believe that the sword practiced inappropriately can be detrimental to aikido. Sadaharu Oh in his autobiography mentioned that there is a cult around the Japanese blade that he made great efforts to avoid, that his blade was functional but notlhing more. He trained with the blade to master baseball. The lesson I learned from Hikitsuchi sensei's iaido was that there is a realness, a power and beauty to life itself that is dulled and hidden by the way we are normally taught to look at the world. The sword can represent that reality, or it can take you into some fixation about samurais and fighting. The latter is counterproductive to aikido's larger message.

The rest of the draws I got from watching an iaido demonstration done by Hikitsuchi sensei before Ueshiba Osensei gave his demonstration. I'm sure there are technical errors galore in what I do, but I practice to practice. I am under no illusion that what I do is correct. I am aware that the practice has evolved. One realization I had is that even though I was able to technically draw and cut better, I had some sort of original purity in 1992 that I no longer seemed to possess. So now I'm seeking a bridge not back but forward to that. I put a soundtrack in("For You" from the movie "Daredevil"). Sometimes the sword represents the justice of the universe and at times that justice can seem blind unless redeemed by aikido's most important message: love.


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