Physical Training Apr 2009
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The Three Attacking Points on the Sword

copyright © 2008 Kim Taylor, all rights reserved

One of the nice things you can do in Iaido is self-correct. It is a solo art and it's entirely possible to correct yourself while practicing away from a sensei. What follows is something that I realize I don't have a good name for, but it's a way of looking at the position of the sword in your hand in relation to your imaginary opponent. This is a method of thinking about the sword in your hand that is mostly derived from my own personal practice and so I take responsibility for what I write here. Please don't feel that you need to practice like this in your own art, just take it as a way of thinking about things that you might adapt to the movements and logic you have learned so far. These "rules" are derived from the meaning of the kata, the riai of what is happening between swordsman and opponent.

For me, it is very important to have pressure (seme) on the opponent (teki) at all times during an iai kata. In simple terms this means that we must be able to attack directly from the sword position we maintain at this (any) instant, without having to go through a chambering position.

What are the points on the sword we can use to attack? They are the edge near the tip (monouchi), the tip itself (kissaki) and the butt end of the hilt (tsuka kashira). I have found that these three points are facing the opponent during most of any iai kata, and from any place where one of these face the opponent, the sword can be used to attack directly. So I keep these positions facing my imaginary opponent as he and I move around.

This is easiest to show in photos so here we go with an explanation using the first kata (Mae) from Zen Ken Ren Iai (seitei gata):

Kim Taylor Iaido : fig 1
Here we sit in seiza with the blade in a neutral position, the tsuka kashira aimed slightly away from the opponent.
Kim Taylor Iaido : fig 2
As we rise the right hand moves directly from its position on the thigh toward the solar plexus (suigetsu) of the opponent, bringing the kashira on a straight line from its original position toward the suigetsu as well.
Kim Taylor Iaido : fig 3
Here we have cut across the forehead using the monouchi (edge) and we have stopped just outside the target with the kissaki tip still aimed at the opponent (teki).
Kim Taylor Iaido : fig 4
As we return the blade around the left side of the head before taking it up and over we threaten teki with the monouchi.
Kim Taylor Iaido : fig 5
The blade moves over the head (furi kaburi) and centres with the tsuka kashira (pommel) aimed at teki.
Kim Taylor Iaido : fig 6
Cutting, monouchi.
Kim Taylor Iaido : fig 7
At the finish of the cut, kissaki
Kim Taylor Iaido : fig 8
Beginning the chiburi, monouchi threatening. Ignore the left hand, its in the wrong place, should be on the belt at the left hip.
Kim Taylor Iaido : fig 9
At the end of the movement around to the back we see the kashira facing teki.
Kim Taylor Iaido : fig 10
As we bend the elbow the kashira remains aimed at teki.
Kim Taylor Iaido : fig 11
The "cutting" motion of chiburi, monouchi to teki.
Kim Taylor Iaido : fig 12
The finish of chiburi, kissaki faces teki
Kim Taylor Iaido : fig 13
The kissaki remains aimed at teki through the foot switch
Kim Taylor Iaido : fig 14
Here is one of the points where we do not follow this rule. We use blades that are longer than we used to use a generation or two ago, and we do not move the hips during noto so we take the tsuka kashira off of teki for this movement. Note that the sword angle is the same as when we started the kata. We must be ready throughout this action to draw toward teki again if need be.
Kim Taylor Iaido : fig 15
At the end of noto we have gathered all our power back into ourselves and could draw once more quite easily.

Kim Taylor Iaido : fig 16
Here are some positions which I consider "wrong". During the draw it is common to aim somewhere to the left (camera left) of teki. I won't argue that this is considered correct for some koryu, I know it is and I know the reason for it but for ZenKenRen iai it's not correct.
Kim Taylor Iaido : fig 17
Here is the end of the opening horizontal cut and we have moved well past the target and are now aiming at something well off to the left. No threat to teki here, we'd have to bring the tip back or chamber the sword above our heads to then cut. I certainly don't feel threatened by this position.
Kim Taylor Iaido : fig 18
Here our foolish fellow has turned the edge upward, away from teki and is lifting the blade upward while dropping his right arm. How could one cut directly from this position and do any damage?
Kim Taylor Iaido : fig 19
And here the blade tip has rotated past the correct point to end up facing someone to the right of the camera. The cut will be lucky to end up in the right place without a curved slice through teki.
Kim Taylor Iaido : fig 20
Chiburi, and the tip again rotates to a useless position, aimed at who knows what, but not at teki. At least the left hand is in the right spot now.
Kim Taylor Iaido : fig 21
The result of the last position is the blade in behind the swordsman's head. That's how the fellow lost all his hair!
Kim Taylor Iaido : fig 22
Of course one could go too far the other way, in which case the blade is in front of the forehead but not in any sort of threatening position. Again, I know that there are koryu which use this position but for my purposes here this is not a strong threatening position toward teki.
Kim Taylor Iaido : fig 23
Finally, at the end of chiburi we see the tip well outside any threatening position toward teki. Hey the guy isn't even looking at teki, he's looking at the camera guy instead. The ham.

Doubtless some folks will disagree with my "mistakes" due to their own koryu practice but I will remind you again that I am aware of other ways of moving the sword, and the reasons behind them. This particular example is for ZenKenRen iai, which is from the Kendo Federation and as such is very dedicated to seme and to zanshin. This is the kendo federation iaido so it must have the same spirit as kendo itself, hips that are square to the opponent, and pressure all the time, along with the ability to attack instantly at each moment. Many positions in the "mistake" section will assume that the opponent is dead, or that there is only one attacker. For ZenKenRen iai we assume neither.

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