The Iaido Journal  May 2005
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Iaido on the Beach

copyright © 2005 Alexander Cook, all rights reserved

I have to say when I began on this journey months ago I did not expect it to be quite like this. Now is only the beginning of where I plan to go with my Iaido career: fittingly, this is the recent story of my first trip traveling with a sword.  Truthfully I did not travel with a sword, as I am going to the Iaido seminar in May and I did not want anything to happen to my Iaito, so I took my Bokuto.

Wait.  First I will explain a few things.  I started Iaido in October of last year and I am planning on grading for Ikkyu in the May seminar.  Also, my girlfriend lives in Florida, which explains my reasoning to go to Florida in the first place.

So, beginning the story, it had been a long and painful bout of school and it was time for a break.  For spring break I booked a trip to visit my girlfriend.  Everything was packed, except for my Bokuto.  I yanked it off my sword stand (gently lifted it with both hands) and threw it into my rifle case (went into seiza and carefully placed it within the protective foam). I was on my way.

I discovered something interesting: you can carry a wooden sword out of Canada and into the United States with no problem, but when you try to bring it back...I’ll explain later in the story.

At Calgary International Airport, while trying to clear customs to the USA, my friend and I got the custom agent with the bad attitude.  Naturally the man with the rifle case gets into the more difficult situation because of the above fore-mentioned attitude. There were some definitely interesting looks because of the rifle case not to mention a sort of chilling ice stare from the customs agent.  

Eventually we made it through customs and even all the way through Tampa to Eckerd College where we were to spend the week.  It was an uneventful shuttle ride except for the driver asking what was in the case.  When I told him it was a wooden sword he let out some kind of scoff.  That was definitely one of those experiences where you need to refrain from replying to those who do not respect you.  I did refrain, and the rest of the trip went smoothly.

Among the piles of homework I brought with me I was not about to forget the reason I carried a wooden sword 2000 miles.  Waking up at some time (I did not care as I was on vacation), I grabbed my belt and my saya bokuto.  Together my girlfriend, my friend and I made our way to the beach.  They laid down their towels and I tied on my belt.  

There are a few things that you need to know if you are to undergo Iaido on the Beach.  

First of all choose a suitable patch of sand.  You don’t want any glass, cigarette butts, or other foul or sharp things to catch yourself on.  Not to mention, bits of grass and roots are a no-no.  

Secondly, for all you males out there (and this applies to females), watch for the opposite sex. Bikinis can be a huge problem:  I learned the hard way.  Just imagine finishing the opening cut of the first kata (Mae) and as you look down to your imaginary opponent a bikini passes through your peripherals.  I find that it definitely tests your focus on Iaido.  

Moving on to the third consideration when training in the sand; always be prepared to get sand absolutely everywhere.  I am serious. You will be picking sand out of places you did not know you had, for days.  Yet another reason to train with a saya bokuto and not an Iaito, I found that after my training, even though I was very careful, there was still sand in my saya.  I do not believe that my Iaito would like that. I know I would not like that.

The fourth item on this list applies to far more than sand training.  In fact it applies to all public training.  If you are one of those people who does not like it when people watch you, or you believe that if anyone looks at you for longer than five seconds they are trying to kill you, than I would strongly urge you to practice publicly with the utmost of caution.

Finally the fifth and what I would consider the most important aspect of training in the sand… Drum roll please… Check, double check, and triple check that the sand you are training in does not contain fire ants.  Though this may not be a problem in Canada, learn from me.  I may not have that much experience with Iaido but this is an experience that everyone should avoid.  FIRE ANTS GRAVELY IMPACT IAIDO TRAINING.

There was some more training after that, but the details are unimportant.  The trip back was uneventful save for trying to get back into Canada.  Naturally the rifle case caused problems, the more so since I was coming from the United States.  The customs agents pulled me to the side and asked to X-ray my case.  I find it interesting how they didn’t want to see that it was a wooden sword but they in fact needed to X-ray the wooden sword.  I was unimpressed.  After some debate they decided that the sword was in fact legal, with my constant assurance that it was in fact purchased in Canada.  Alas I was nearly done.  Indeed not.  For some reason, even though I declared the sword, they did not trust me and they wanted to scan my entire suitcase.  They found a long piece of metal.  The woman there instantly wanted to arrest me or something, you could see it in her eyes, but the man was better humoured.  

“Yes,” I replied, “I do have a ruler in my bag.  I am an engineer.  That is what we do.”

At some point the woman gave up as she found I was not in fact a terrorist attempting to take over Canada with a wooden sword and ruler, though I am still questioning her decision.  

There it is, laid out straight as can be:  My first experience taking a sword out of the country.  The moral: make sure the customs agents you get have at least half a wit or more, not to mention they know what is legal and what isn’t.  And my last piece of advice before I bid you adieu is, and I cannot caution enough, ‘FIRE ANTS GRAVELY IMPACT IAIDO TRAINING.’  

Despite what happened, even with all the fire ants, broken glass, butts and bikinis, the beach still is a great place to train.

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TIN May 2005